Geographical Facts and Wonders
Cultural Wonders
US Military History
Modern Marvels
Gastronomy/Wine
Made in France
Who's Who and Birthplaces
Word Origins

Here is a collection of fun facts about France ranging from geographical wonders to culture, gastronomy and famous people. I hope this will make your want to visit a wonderful country with amazing sites both natural and man-made.

 

 

 

Geographical Facts and Wonders:

France is the largest nation in Western Europe and is bordered by six countries: Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany and Belgium. And let's not forget the tiny nations of Andorra and Monaco.

Total land surface 550 000 sq km and the coastline is more than 5 500 km, with access to the Channel, Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.

There are 7 main mountainous regions in France: the Alps, Auvergne, Massif Central, Jura, Morvan, Pyrenees, Vosges and Corsica.

France has an extensive network of rivers and canals. Its five major river systems are: the Loire ( the longest with 1, 010 km in length) followed by the Seine (770 km), the Garonne (650 km.), the Rhône (522 km) and the Rhine which forms the border between France and Germany for a distance of 190 km.

Some geographical wonders in France include:

Dune du Pilat: Situated at the entrance of the Bay of Arcachon it is the tallest sand dune of Europe measuring 105 meters high, 2700 meters long and 500 meters wide.

Mont Blanc, in the Alps is the second highest mountain in Europe which culminates at 4807 meters above sea-level.

Mer de Glace is the second largest glacier in the Alps

Gorges du Verdon: In the Alps de Haute Provence, the Gorges du Verdon is considered to be Europe's deepest canyon up to 700 meter deep.

Pic du Midi: from the top of the Pic du Midi (2, 877 meter high) the views of the surrounding Pyrenees mountain chains and the valley below are incredible. It is also the site dedicated to observation and exploration of the greater universe beyond.

Cirque de Gavarnie, in the Pyrenees Mountains, is a vast natural amphitheater with steep walls up to 1,708 m (5,600 ft) high. It is the site of Europe's highest waterfall (423m high)

Gouffre de Padirac: The chasm of Padirac (in Lot region, France's Southwest) plunges 75 meters deep through the limestone plateau of the "Causse de Gramat before forming 13 miles of underground galleries containing spectacular formations of stalactites and underground lakes which you visit on boat.

Auvergne is the land of volcanoes. More than 80 extinct volcanic craters rise above fertile plains. TOP

 

Cultural Wonders:

There are 29 UNESCO World heritage sites in France including: Mont St. Michel Abbey; Chartres Cathedral, Versailles Palace , Roman theatre and Triumphal arch of Orange; Pont du Gard Roman Aqueduct, Carcassonne's fortified City; Avignon's medieval quarter and the Pope's Palace; prehistorically decorated caves of Lascaux; historic center of Lyon; St. Emilion; Cisterian abbey of Fontenay. For the full list of UNESCO sites visit: http://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/fr

The Loire Valley has more than 1,000 historic chateaux; most of them are privately owned.

Carnac in southern Brittany is the site of mysterious stone megaliths erected some 6,000 years ago.

Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut was designed by French architect Le Corbusier in 1955 and is considered a masterpiece of 20th century design. The sweeping curved roof was inspired by the shell of a hermit crab. TOP

 

 

US Military History

Meuse Argonne American Cemetery (near Verdun) is the largest WWI US military cemetery in Europe.

American Cemetery in Saint Laurent sur Mer, Normandy contains the remains of 9, 386 American soldiers who fought in WWII. TOP

 

 

 

Modern Marvels:

Millau Viaduc: Inaugurated in 2004, the Millau Viaduc is a suspension bridge supported by seven pillars 885 feet high above the Tarn River. Located in southwest France in the mountainous region of Aveyron, the bridge stretches for a mile and a half. It is more than 1500 feet longer than the span of the Golden Gate Bridge and is taller than the Eiffel Tower though just a little short of the Empire State Building.

Channel: The underwater tunnel linking France to England is a joint venture between the two countries. It consists of two rail tunnels and one service tunnel. There are 31 miles long of which 23 miles are under water and the average depth is 150 ft below seabed. The channel crossing time for Eurostar is only 20 minutes and Paris to London takes less than 3 hours.

TGV: France has one of the most efficient, on time, speedy and comfortable rail system in the world. The TGV (high speed train) is France's pride and joy. This train travels at the speed of more than 200 miles per hour and serves 150 towns throughout France. It holds the world speed record at 500 mph. There are three major routes that run from Paris: north to Lille-Calais, south-west to Nantes and Bordeaux, and south-east to Lyon and on down to Marseille. It connects destination like Paris to Avignon in less than 3 hours. The new line Paris -Strasbourg is under construction and is set to open in 2007.

Airbus: Toulouse is home to Airbus industries due to release in 2005 the largest commercial airliner ever built, the A380. Lengthwise, it would nearly stretch from goal line to goal line of a football field while its wing tips are said to measure 262 feet. It will be able to accommodate from 550 and up to 840 passengers and fly a distance of over 10,000 miles. TOP

 

 

Gastronomy/wine

France boasts over 500 different cheeses. Every region has its own specialty cheese - camembert from Normandy, Roquefort from the Larzac region in Aveyron; Brie from Meaux; Gruyere from Franche Comte; Epoisse from Burgundy St. Paulin from the Loire, etc.

France is one of the world's major wine producing nation with long standing wine producing traditions. There are 17 distinct wine regions in France most notably Bordeaux, Alsace, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Champagne, Loire, Provence. Rhone Valley and Languedoc-Roussillon. Did you know that Cognac comes from the Charente, Armagnac from the Gers, Cointreau is from Angers and Benedictine Liquor from Normandy? Appellation d'Origine Controllee (AOC) designates highest quality wines from a specific region and ensure that the quality is strictly met.

The gastronomy of France is known the world over for its quality and inventiveness. There are more Michelin starred restaurants in France than anywhere else in the world. Each region, town and village holds dear its culinary traditions - from Brittany comes the versatile crepe; foie gras is from the southwest; Bouillabaisse from Marseille; Ratatouille from Provence, Beef Bourguignon comes from Burgundy and Tarte Tatin was invented by an absent-minded cook from the Sologne. TOP

 

     
 

Made in France

France is a leading exporter of luxury items from crystal to couture, perfumes and wines. Here is where you can visit prestigious manufacturers.

Baccarat Crystal: From the town of Baccarat, Lorraine is produced one of the world's finest crystal. Founded in 1764 under order by King Louis XV, the glasswork factory has since produced dazzling crystal pieces from vases, chandelier, stemware, jewelry and other pieces. You can visit the museum in Baccarat to learn the method of fabrication and admire its beautiful collection. You can also visit the Baccarat Gallerie-Museum in Paris (11 Place des Etats Unis) where some of the company's most prestigious pieces are showcased.

Limoges: In the Middle Ages the town was already famous for its enamelwork but it is in the 1770's when kaolin deposits were discovered nearby that Limoges became famous for its beautiful porcelain. World renowned porcelain manufacturers-- Haviland and Bernardeau are located in Limoges.

Aubusson: For five centuries, Aubusson in the Limousin region of France has been a center for tapestry weaving. It was by order of Colbert, the Prime minister of Louis XIV that Aubusson gained the status of Royal Manufactury in 1664. It is believed that the purity of the local water contributes to fine and delicate dyes used in the tapestries. Each hand woven tapestry is a work of art with designs from illustrious artists like Boucher, Picasso, Douanier Rousseau, Monet and many others.

Lyon's Silk: Since 1536 when King Francis I gave Lyon the monopoly of silk manufacturing, Lyon has been considered the silk capital of the world. Since then Its silk weavers, known as 'canuts' have uphold century old traditions of silk-weaving and helped establish Lyon's prosperity. TOP

 

 

Who's Who and Birthplaces

Honore de Balzac (1789-1850)--Prolific author born in Tours. His work depicts French society of his time in precise details characters from every class and profession. Balzac popular novels include: "Cousine Bette", "Pere Goriot", "Les Chouans" "Les Illusions Perdues" and many more.

Frederic August Bartholdi (1834-1904)-- The sculptor of the Statue of Liberty was born in Colmar, Alsace. In 1879, Bartholdi earned a US patent for a "Design for a Statue". It arrived in New York Harbor on June 19, 1885 as a gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. Lady Liberty stands more than 300 feet high and is said to resemble Bartholdi's mother. The house where the sculptor was born in Colmar is a museum devoted to the artist and his work.

Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) -- The 19th century Romantic composer was born in the small town of la Cote Saint Andre in the Alps. Sent to Paris by his father to study medicine, Berlioz instead studied music, supporting himself by writing about music and giving lessons. In 1830, Berlioz composed his most famous work, the Symphonie Fantastique. Every year in August, a festival Berlioz takes place in La Cote Saint Andre. You can also visit a museum devoted to the life and work of the composer which is located in the house where he once lived.

Jacques Cartier (1491-1557)-- On March 19 1534 Cartier set sails from his native Saint Malo, Brittany on a mission to discover riches in new lands for the King of France. In the process he explored the North American coast and the St. Lawrence River which laid to France's claims on Canada.

Paul Cezanne: (1839-1906). -- A native of Aix en Provence, Paul Cezanne is regarded as the "father of modern painting" influencing the Fauvist and Cubist artists among others. He is known for painting still lifes like apples, glasses and bottles but his favorite subject was Sainte Victoire Mountain, located right outside of Aix. You can visit the artistís workshop and retrace his footsteps throughout Aix. 2006 will mark the centennial of the death of the artist and commemorative events will take place in his native city.

Jean Francois Champollion (1790-1832)--The French Egyptologist gained renown for his work on deciphering the Rosetta Stone in 1822. Born in Figeac, in the Lot department, Champollion went on to become the director of the Egyptian museum at the Louvre and professor of Egyptian Antiquities at the Collège de France. The Champollion Museum in Figeac is located in the house where the scientist was born. A copy of the Rosetta Stone is engraved in the pavement outside the museum.

Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970)-- Born in Lille, General de Gaulle was the leader of the Free French Forces in WWII and went on to become the country's president from 1958-1969. His political ideology is known as Gaullism and is still influential today. The house where he was born on rue Princesse is now a museum displaying memorabilia that relates to the life of the statesman.

Jean Eugene Robert Houdin--(1805-1871) was a gifted magician born in Blois, in the heart of the Loire Valley. Often considered to be the father of "modern Magic", Harry Houdini, in tribute, took his stage name after him. Along with playing tricks, Houdin was a watchmaker and inventor. He is credited for inventing the filament bulb 15 years before Edison. The Maison de la Magie in Blois, entertains visitors with live magic show and an exhibit on the history and techniques of magic.

Michel de Nostre Dame (Nostradamus) (1503-1566) was born in St. Remy de Provence into a well - educated Jewish family. His parents converted to Catholicism in the face of the raging Inquisition movement of the days. He studied medecine in Montpellier and became a physician and astrologer. He is famous for the prophecies he had made. Some believed that he predicted the rise of Napoleon and Hitler. The house where he was born is still standing on rue Hoche in the center of picturesque Saint Remy de Provence.

Rabelais (1494-1553) Three miles southwest of Chinon is la Deviniere, the house where the 16th century writer and humanist was born. He is the author of the satirical "Gargantua and Pantagruel". The house is a museum that commemorates the writer.

Rashi (1040-1105) - Rabbi Shlomo ben Ytzchak (RASHI) was born in Troyes, Champagne. Educated in Germany, he returned to his native land to tend his family vineyards and wine business. Rashi is considered to be the greatest medieval Jewish scholar and commentator on the Bible and the Talmud. He had three daughters who were themselves quite learned and they married great Jewish scholars. Their descendants carried on Rashi's legacy of Jewish scholarship for generations after that.

Henry de Toulouse Lautrec (1864-1901)--The 19th century painter was born in Albi, near Toulouse into an aristocratic family. He broke both legs in childhood and it is during his convalescence that he turned to drawing and painting. In 1882 Toulouse-Lautrec went to study art in Paris where he met Vincent van Gogh and other post-impressionist artists. By 1885, he opened a studio in Montmartre and took to depicting the exciting night life of this bohemian section of Paris. Dance girls, circus acts and famous cabaret entertainers were the subject of his canvases. Ravaged by alcohol, he died in his mother's care in 1901. In Albi you can visit the Toulouse Lautrec Museum which holds a wonderful collection of this works.

Jules Verne (1828-1905).-- The father of modern science fiction was born and raised in the port city of Nantes. His famous works include "A Thousand Leagues under the Sea"; "Around the World in Eighty Days"; "A Journey in the Center of the Earth" and "From the Earth to the Moon" . In all he wrote 65 novels and assorted plays, essays and even opera librettos in a career that span 40 years. 2005 marks the anniversary of the death of the prolific writer. The Musée Jules Verne in Nantes offers a vast collection of books, manuscripts and memorabilia about the author.

William the Conqueror: (1027-1087). Born in Falaise, Normandy this future King of England was the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy. He received the duchy of Normandy at the tender age of 8 upon his father's death in 1035. He undertook his conquest of England in 1066. This battle is recounted in vivid details and colors by the 11 Century Queen Matilda' s Tapestry which can be seen at the Bayeux Tapestry Museum. The remains of William's childhood castle can be visited in Falaise. TOP

 

 

Words Origin

Denim: It is believed that the word denim is derived from "Serge de Nimes" the fabric it was made of and which came from Nîmes, southern France.

Chauvinism: "extreme and unreasoning partisanship on behalf of a group to which one belongs". This word comes from Nicola Chauvin, a soldier in Napoleon's army who was fanatically loyal to his emperor.

Guillotine: In 1789 Doctor Joseph Ignace Guillotin, a member of the Revolutionary Assembly, recommended beheading as a more humane form of execution. A machine was devised and built with a sharp blade which executed an estimated 40,000 victims during the Revolution among which King Louis XVI, his wife, Marie Antoinette and Revolutionary leaders Robespiere and Danton. The guillotine as a form of state execution was in use until 1981 when France abolished capital punishment.

Sadism: "the sexual pleasure or gratification in the infliction of pain and suffering upon another person". This word is derived from the Marquis de Sade, an 18th century nobleman who led a dissolute life and wrote sadistic novels. TOP