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Like all countries, France is divided up into bits and pieces. It looks something like this:
Each France region has its specialities (many of them culinary) and even small towns and villages have things that make them stand out.
Understanding my country's structure will help you uncover what we are like as a people and just how diverse and large France really is.
France is, in fact, more than twice the size of the United Kingdom and 1.5 times the size of Germany. Of course size comparisons pale when we talk about the US – we are roughly the same size as Texas (and similarly modest).
How many regions in France?
It's not an easy question: we used to have 22 until things changed in 2016.
We now have 18 administrative regions, including 13 metropolitan regions in mainland France and another five, products of colonial adventures, scattered around the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean.
Here, we will look at those areas of France located on the mainland (the island of Corsica may be physically separate from the mainland , but it is considered part of metropolitan France, "la métropole".)
These regional boundaries reflect a relatively recent (2016) decision by the French National Assembly to reduce the number of regions in Metropolitan or Continental France from 22 to the present 13 new super-regions.
This was not a painless process, and many parts of France felt disenfranchised after they lost historical names they had held for centuries to make way for larger administrative entities with a new name. As often happens, boundaries were shuffled in ways that sometimes ignored history.
In case you're curious, you can compare the names of the old regions with the new ones here.
The designations of the former regions remain in everyday culture, however.
For example, the area formerly called Alsace, or Alsace-Lorraine, is still referred to by its old name, even though it is now part of the Grand-Est region. No one says they going to visit the "Grand-Est" – they would say, "I'm going to Alsace."
And below are the regions today, as they were redrawn in 2016.
A region would be, say, like a grouping of US states: the Southwest, for example, or New England, except that our areas of France are formal – in other words, these are administrative entities with a legal status and a capital.
The 18 France regions – some might liken them to French provinces – are broken down into 101 French departments, including those located overseas. As a child I was made to learn the names of all the departments, but I don't remember them all – my excuse is that a lot of them have changed names!
The following regions of France list contains all the "mainland" regions, with their prefecture (capital city), their departments, and a list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites you'll find in each, just to give you a bit of local flavor.
They're listed alphabetically – no playing favorites here!
And if it's food you're after, here are our culinary specialties, by region.
Until a few years ago, the Auvergne and the Rhône-Alpes were two different regions, which were combined during the "great merger" of 2016.
This is a mountainous region, containing most of the Alps, the central volcanic region, and a large part of the Massif Central, along with a significant portion of the Rhone Valley. This region borders on Lake Geneva, and also happens to be my own region, where I live.
It covers 13% of France (the size of Ireland), and is the country's most populated. It is France's leading gastronomic and industrial region, and has the largest skiing surface in the world.
Includes the departments of: Ain (01), Allier (03), Ardèche (07), Cantal (15), Drôme (26), Isère (38), Loire (42), Haute-Loire (43), Puy-de-Dôme (63), Rhône (69), Savoie (73), Haute-Savoie (74)
This region is made up of two very distinct former regions. Burgundy was once a separate country, ruled by the Dukes of Burgundy, and Franche-Comté.
This accounts for the large number of remarkable historical sites in the region, which, by the way, is also home to the wines of Burgundy (and of the lesser-known Jura).
The region is also incredibly green and filled with wonderful natural landscapes, a paradise for outdoor sports both in summer and winter, and doted with plenty of mountains – the Vosges, the Jura Mountains, and parts of the Massif Central.
Includes the departments of: Côte-d'Or (21), Doubs (25), Jura (39), Nièvre (58), Haute-Saône (70), Saône-et-Loire (71), Yonne (89), Territoire de Belfort (90)
Bretagne, or Brittany, is famous for legends, and has more than 3000 standing megaliths scattered throughout the region, possibly the world's largest collection.
Its Celtic culture is quite different from that of the heart of France, and its nature diverse, with tiny fishing villages clinging to beaches and rocky coasts, and a multitude of islands, all of which makes it an outstanding destination for a visit.
This is also the land of the famous crêpe, as you probably know...
Includes the departments of: Côtes-d'Armor (22), Finistère (29), Ille-et-Vilaine (35), Morbihan (56)
Brittany seems to be the only one of the French regions without a UNESCO World Heritage Site, yet it is a strikingly beautiful region of menhirs and dolmens (think Asterix) and of a multitude of beaches, quaint fishing villages and dramatic cliff backdrops. This is also where you'll come for authentic crêpes!
This region is probably well known to you: located in central France, it is the home of such beloved chateaux as Chambord and Chenonceau. It also encompasses such historic provinces as the Berry and is famous for both its pinot noir and its white wines.
It is crossed by the Loire River, one of France's main rivers as well as its longest river. The region is so easy to reach by public transport that many people commute from here to Paris.
Conversely, if you're visiting Paris, you can easily take a day trip to the Loire Valley and enjoy some of the country's best places for history and architecture buffs.
Includes the departments of: Cher (18), Eure-et-Loir (28), Indre (36), Indre-et-Loire (37), Loir-et-Cher (41), Loiret (45)
Corsica is famous as the home of Napoleon Bonaparte, of course, but also for its stunning scenery, which makes it a favorite Mediterranean Sea destination for locals and foreigners alike.
It is also one of French regions with a distinct regional identity and a pan European history.
Includes the departments of: Haute-Corse (2B), Corse-du-Sud (2A)
This region is a complicated mixture of areas which have played an important role in French history, such as the former Alsace-Lorraine, whose loss to Germany was one of the causes of the First World War.
Part of this region was once known as Champagne-Ardennes, and as you can guess, it is home to the vineyards of Champagne.
Includes the departments of: Ardennes (08), Aube (10), Marne (51), Haute-Marne (52), Meurthe-et-Moselle (54), Meuse (55), Moselle (57), Bas-Rhin (67), Haut-Rhin (68), Vosges (88)
Hauts-de-France is the north of France, and is a popular region for those interested in the battlefields of World Wars I and II. The main city, Lille, is home to the Braderie de Lille, Europe's largest and most famous flea market.
This is also where you'll find the beaches of the Opal Coast, famous for its marshes and dunes and white chalk cliffs, similar to those of Dover across the Channel.
Includes the departments of: Aisne (02), Nord (59), Oise (60), Pas-de-Calais (62), Somme (80)
Ile de France is the home of Paris, the country's capital and its largest city.
Often called the City of Light, it is the main attraction for many of those visiting France.
Other than Paris, the Île-de-France region is home to the chateaux of Versailles, Fontainebleau and Vaux-le-Vicomte, among others.
Includes the departments of: Paris (75), Seine-et-Marne (77), Yvelines (78), Essonne (91), Hauts-de-Seine (92), Seine-Saind-Denis (93), Val-de-Marne (94), Val-d'Oise (95)
Normandy is well known for its medieval castles and gothic cathedrals, as well as its World War II landing beaches and historical remains. It's also home to stunning cliffs and wonderful beaches, not to mention picturesque villages and some of the best food in France.
Lower Normandy, of course, is known for Mont Saint-Michel, an island just off the coast and crowned with an abbey, making for one of the most interesting places in France.
Includes the departments of: Calvados (14), Eure (27), Manche (50), Orne (61), Seine-Maritime (76)
This historic region (remember Eleanor of Aquitaine?) roughly encompasses the southern half of western France and faces the Atlantic Ocean. It is known as Europe's leading agricultural region when it comes to economic development and, of course, is also the region of Bordeaux wine and cognac.
Many visitors also beat a path to the Dordogne, with its markets and authentic villages, and to the Basque hinterland, for those who seek something culturally different from the rest of France.
Nouvelle-Aquitaine is the largest of the French regions.
Includes the departments of: Charente (16), Charente-Maritime (17), Corrèze (19), Creuse (23), Dordogne (24), Gironde (33), Landes (40), Lot-et-Garonne (47), Pyrénées-Atlantiques (64), Deux-Sèvres (79), Vienne (86), Haute-Vienne (87)
Nouvelle-Aquitaine is the largest of the French regions.
This is a culturally and historically rich region, and highly diverse, from the Pyrenees Mountains to its coastal beaches.
High in color and tastes, this is southern France at its best, with plenty of sunshine and bountiful orchards and a favorite vacation destination of both foreign and French people.
Includes the departments of: Ariège (09), Aude (11), Aveyron (12), Gard (30), Haute-Garonne (31), Gers (32), Hérault (34), Lot (46), Lozère (48), Hautes-Pyrénées (65), Pyrénées-Orientales (66), Tarn (81), Tarn-et-Garonne (82)
Not to be confused with the Centre-Val-de-Loire region, this is the "other" Loire, further downriver from its near-namesake and also full of Renaissance chateaux.
This region, however, encompasses part of what used to be considered Brittany, such as the city of Nantes. There are famous medieval reenactments in the region, not surprising given its history.
The Pays de la Loire is steeped in history but also filled with beautiful natural sites, such as the Granite Coast. It's perfect for lovers of seafood and white wine, explorers of magnificent chateaux and beach aficionados.
Includes the departments of: Loire-Atlantique (44), Maine-et-Loire (49), Mayenne (53), Sarthe (72), Vendée (85)
Provence and the French Riviera need very little introduction, from the hilltop villages of the Luberon to the beaches and red carpet of Cannes or the lavender fields that burst into flower each summer.
This is a land graced by nature, from its mountains all the way down to its crystal blue seas. The vistas are unimaginable, and the villages exquisite, with their cobblestones and flowers.
Includes the departments of: Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04), Hautes-Alpes (05), Alpes-Maritimes (06), Bouches-du-Rhône (13), Var (83), Vaucluse (84)
I hope this list of regions in France will help you plan your trip to France! As you've seen, we are incredibly diverse and, I hope, interesting enough to keep you coming back.