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Facts at a Glance
 Full country name: French Republic

Area: 547,000 sq km (213,330 sq mi)

Population: 59 million

Capital city: Paris (pop 10.95 million)

People: 92% French, 3% North African, 2% German, 1% Breton, 2% Other (including Provençal, Catalan & Basque)

Language: French (also Flemish, Alsacian, Breton, Basque, Catalan, Provençal & Corsican)

Religion: 90% Roman Catholic, 2% Protestant, 1% Muslim, 1% Jewish, 6% unaffiliated

Government: Democracy

President: Jacques Chirac

Prime Minister: Jean-Pierre Raffarin


Slightly larger than California, France is one of the largest countries in Europe. The English Channel lies to the northwest and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Spain broils across the Pyrenees to the south, the Mediterranean (including Corsica) is to the southeast and over the eastern Alps and Jura ranges lie Switzerland and Italy. France's relatively flat northeastern borders abut Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium.

Since 1790, France has been divided into administrative units of about 6100 sq km (2380 sq mi) called

The French Alps include Mont Blanc, which at 4800m (15,750ft) is Europe's highest peak. The most spectacular of France's ancient ranges is the Massif Central, a huge region in the middle of France that covers one-sixth of the country. The country's longest river, the Loire, runs 1020km (630mi) from the Massif Central to the Atlantic. The Seine, Rhône, Garonne and Rhine are France's other major waterways, draining the plains and funnelling huge mountain run-offs. Over 3200km (1985mi) of coastline ranges from the chalk cliffs of Normandy and the promontories of Brittany to the fine-sand beaches along the Atlantic. The southeastern Mediterranean coast tends to have pebbly, sometimes rocky beaches, though the Languedoc and some of the Roussillon beaches have sand-castle potential.

France's mix of climates and terrains endowed it with a rich variety of flora and fauna. Unfortunately, due to agricultural overkill, pollution and encroaching urbanisation, many fragile species such as the Pyrenees ibex, Corsican deer, brown bear, wolf and otter now face extinction. Some animals and birds - the chamois (a mountain antelope), the larger bouquetin (a type of ibex), beaver, stork and vulture - still live in the wild thanks to re-introduction programs based in national parks. Forests - mostly beech, oak and pine - cover roughly one-fifth of the country. Storms in 1999 uprooted over 60 million trees throughout France; replanting is underway. These wooded areas, as well as vast wetlands, support the bulk of the country's mammals and birds.

France has a predominantly temperate climate, with mild winters, except in mountain areas and the northeast. The Atlantic has a profound impact on the northwest, where the weather is characterised by high humidity, often violent westerly winds and lots of rain. France's northeast has a classic continental climate, with fairly hot summers and cold winters. Midway between the two, the Paris basin boasts the nation's lowest annual precipitation, but rainfall patterns are erratic. Paris' average annual temperature is 12°C (52°F), but the mercury sometimes drops below zero in January and can climb to the mid-30s°C (95°F) or higher in August. The southern coastal plains are subject to a pleasant Mediterranean climate: frost is rare, spring and autumn downpours are sudden but brief and summer is virtually without rain. The south is also the region of the 'mistral', a cold, dry wind that blows down the Rhône Valley for about 100 days a year. Relentless and unforgiving in spring, it is blamed for sending people into fits of pique.

Economic Profile
 GDP: US$1.32 trillion

GDP per head: US$22,700

Annual growth: 4%

Inflation: 2%

Major industries: Oil refining, steel, cement, aluminium, agricultural products & foodstuffs (wheat, barley, maize, cheese), luxury goods, chemicals, motor manufacturing, energy products

Major trading partners: EU (Germany, Italy, UK), USA

Member of EU: yes

Euro zone participant: yes

Facts for the Traveler
 Visas: Nationals of the EU, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Israel do not require visas to visit France as tourists for up to three months. Except for people from a handful of other European countries, everyone else must have a visa.

Health risks: Your main risks are likely to be sunburn, foot blisters, insect bites and upset stomachs from overeating and drinking.

Time: GMT/UTC +1

Electricity: 220V, 50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

Money & Costs
 Currency:euro (EUR), formerly French franc (FF)
Relative Costs:

  • Budget: US$5-15
  • Mid-range: US$15-30
  • Top-end: US$30+

  • Lodging

  • Budget: US$10-35
  • Mid-range: US$35-60
  • Top-end: US$60+
  • The land of the US$5 café au lait is not exactly Europe's cheapest destination, but that doesn't mean you have to break the bank to visit. Devoted scrimpers can get by on around US$40 per day, though it means a whole lot of brie-and-baguettings in the park. For a more well-rounded culinary experience and a comfy bed or two, a minimum of US$80 is in order. Of course, for the Dom Perignon crowd, those figures might not cover even the day's

    The cheapest and most convenient way to change money in France is via ATMs (known as DABs in French); they accept all the major international credit and bank cards. You get the best exchange rate by using a credit card for purchases and a debit card for cash. Traveller's cheques are the safest and are almost universally accepted, especially in larger towns and tourist centres; they also offer better exchange rates than cash. Leaving a

    When to Go

    Spring offers the best weather to visitors, with beach tourism picking up in May. Temperatures aren't too bad in autumn, although the short days mean limited sunlight and the cold starts to make itself felt towards the end of the season, even along the Côte d'Azur. Winter means playing in the snow in France's Alps and Pyrenees, though the Christmas school holidays send hordes of tadpoles in uniform scurrying for the slopes. Mid-July through the end of August is when most city dwellers take their annual five weeks' vacation to the coasts and mountains, and the half-desolate cities tend to shut down a bit accordingly. Likewise during February and March.

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