The French Republic is the largest country of Western Europe with an area of 549 190 km2. It is bounded on the north by the English Channel, the Strait of Dover, and the North Sea (which separate it from Great Britain); on the north-east by Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany; on the east by Germany, Switzerland, and Italy; on the south-east by Monaco and the Mediterranean Sea; on the south by Spain and Andorra; and on the west by the Bay of Biscay (an arm of the Atlantic Ocean). The country is about 965 km north to south and 935 km from east to west. The island of Corsica lies in the Mediterranean Sea to the south-east, off the coast of Italy.
The Brittany-Normandy hills in the north have low, rounded hills and rolling plains. The soils are generally poor, although there are some fertile areas along the coast. The flat or rolling plains of northern France, on the other hand, have an average elevation of about 200 m and highly fertile soils. The area centring on Paris is a large circular basin drained by the Seine and other major rivers. France shares the Ardennes Mountains in the north-east with Belgium. The Rhine Valley bordering Germany has steep slopes and flat bottom lands. In the south-west are lowlands drained by the Garonne River and its tributaries. Inland are rolling plains.
In the south central part of the country lie the central highlands, or Massif Central. The soils in the region are poor except in some of the valleys. Massive mountains, including parts of the Alps and the Jura, are located along the border with Switzerland and Italy, many with elevations exceeding 4 000 m. The highest point in France is Mont Blanc at 4 807 m. The Pyrenees Mountains extend along France's border with Spain, with many peaks above 3 000 m.. Between the central highlands and the foothills of the Alps, the Mediterranean lowlands and the Rhone-Saone Valley region have productive soils.
The island of Corsica is hilly and mountainous with generally poor soils and a steep, rocky coastline.
The climate of France is generally temperate, but there are large regional differences. Westerly winds that blow in from the Atlantic strongly influence the climate of the western coastal regions, which have a rainy climate with cool winters and mild summers. The Mediterranean coast has an almost semitropical climate, with dry summers and mild winters. Much of the rest of the country has a more continental climate, with cold winters and hot summers.
The average daily temperature range in Paris is 1° to 6° C in January and 15° to 25° in July with an average precipitation of 620 mm per year. At Marseille, on the Mediterranean coast, the daily average is 2° to 10° C in January and 17° to 29° C in July with an average of 550 mm of precipitation annually. The mountains receive more precipitation, with heavy snowfalls at the upper elevations.
The designations employed and the presentation of material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.