Like all countries, France is divided up: it has broad regions, smaller départements, or counties, and finally, cities, towns and villages (and a few other small subdivisions).
Each region has its speciality, and often, even towns and villages have things that make them stand out. As I discover them, I'll be listing them below.
Understanding my country's structure will help you uncover what we are like as a people and will show you just how diverse and large we actually are.
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 the US comes into play although we are roughly the same size as Texas (and similarly modest).
How many regions in France? 18 administrative regions, 13 of them in mainland France and the rest, products of colonial adventures, scattered around the Caribbean or Indian Ocean. A region would be, say, like a grouping of US states, for example, the Southwest, or the South, except that ours are formal – in other words, we have similar rules about certain things across regions, like school dates or railway systems. A department would be a bit more like a state.
Perhaps these maps will give you a better idea, and if not, we'll be exploring my country in a lot more detail on the following pages.
Our 18 regions are broken down into 101 departments, which we are supposed to know by heart but which we don't, except for those that are near where we either live or spend our summer vacations.
So let's explore our regions!
This one is simple: it's my region, stretching all the way from the Swiss border in the East to more than halfway across France, the third-largest region in France. Like the other regions, it succumbed to the reshuffling that took place in 2016 to bring what were then 22 regions down to 13.
If you've been to France, you may already know this region: it's the one with most of the Alpine skiing (and cheese!) and home to the Mont-Blanc, with jumping off centers like Grenoble or Chambéry. The urban heartland of this region is Lyon, a glorious city that was already significant in Roman times.
This region is just to the north of the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes and is the result of the fusion of two very different regions. Historically, Burgundy and Franche-Comté played a bit of a game of hide-and-seek, sometimes under the same government and sometimes not.
Burgundy, the famous wine country, is a rolling land of abbeys and churches, of peaceful vine-studded villages and architectural gems. The seat of the region is the delightful city of Dijon, once the capital of the Duchy of Burgundy. The other half of the region, the Franche-Comté, couldn't be more different: nature at its best, the Jura Mountains, all green a hiker's paradise, waterfalls, views, forests...
This is one of the few regions that matches up relatively well to its historical boundaries: today's Brittany region covers most of the area the historical province of Brittany used to. That said, the city of Nantes has been amputated from this region and moved to the Pays de la Loire region next door; this creates some confusion, not to mention incomprehension among some Bretons. Both were key cities in Brittany but there was always a rivalry; this separation was designed to end it by making Rennes the capital.
Tucked into France's northwest, Bretagne boasts a Celtic tradition, at least for part of it, and is a favourite refuge for Parisians fed up with the city. Unlike the rest of the country, Brittany is a region that both faces inward toward France but also outward toward Great Britain, whose settlers came here centuries ago.
This is a land of menhirs and dolmens (think Asterix) and of a multitude of beaches, quaint fishing villages and dramatic cliff backdrops. This is where you'll come for authentic crêpes!