France, the largest country in Western Europe, has long been a gateway between the continent's northern and southern regions. Its lengthy borders touch Germany and Belgium in the north; the Atlantic Ocean in the west; the Pyrenees Mountains and Spain in the south.
Wide fertile plains dominate most of the north and west, making France the agricultural epicenter of Europe. The sprawling, forested plateau of the Massif Central, a range of ancient mountains and extinct volcanoes, occupies France's southern interior.
Map created by National Geographic Maps
PEOPLE & CULTURE
France is one of the oldest nations on Earth and the most ethnically diverse country in Europe. These deep and broad influences have made France a world leader throughout history in nearly all aspects of culture, including cuisine, wine-making, politics, philosophy, music, art, film, fashion, literature, and sports.
France has ample land area to provide habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals. More than 25 percent of its territory is covered with forest, and another 50 percent is countryside or farmland.
Lowland forests are home to deer and wild boar, while the woodlands of the Alps and Pyrenees provide refuge for rare chamois antelope, ibex, brown bears, and alpine hares, among many other species. The Mediterranean coastline is a stopover of millions of migrating African birds, including flamingos, vultures, egrets, and bee-eaters.
The French government has made a broad commitment to preserving open spaces and the wildlife they contain. About 10 percent of the country has been set aside as national or regional parklands and nature reserves.