Metropolitan France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. French people often refer to Metropolitan France as L’Hexagone (The “Hexagon”) because of the geometric shape of its territory.
France is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Andorra, and Spain. Due to its overseas departments, France also shares land borders with Brazil and Suriname (bordering French Guiana) , and the Netherlands Antilles (bordering Saint-Martin). France is also linked to the United Kingdom by the Channel Tunnel, which passes underneath the English Channel.
France is a unitary semi-presidential republic. Its main ideals are expressed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
France was the world’s foremost power from the latter half of the 17th century until the early 19th century. In the 18th and 19th centuries, France built one of the largest colonial empires of the time, stretching across West Africa and Southeast Asia, prominently influencing the cultures and politics of the regions.
France is a developed country, with the sixth (nominal GDP) or eighth (PPP) largest economy in the world. It is the most visited country in the world, receiving over 79 million foreign tourists annually (including business visitors, but excluding people staying less than 24 hours in France). France is one of the founding members of the European Union, and has the largest land area of all members. France is also a founding member of the United Nations, and a member of the Francophonie, the G8, and the Latin Union.
It is one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council; it is also an acknowledged nuclear power.
While Metropolitan France is located in Western Europe, France also has a number of territories in North America, the Caribbean, South America, the southern Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and Antarctica. These territories have varying forms of government ranging from overseas department to overseas collectivity.
Metropolitan France covers 547,030 square kilometres (211,209 sq mi), having the largest area among European Union members and slightly larger than Spain. France possesses a wide variety of landscapes, from coastal plains in the north and west to mountain ranges of the Alps in the south-east, the Massif Central in the south-central and Pyrenees in the south-west. At 4,807 metres (15,770 ft) above sea-level, the highest point in Western Europe, Mont Blanc, is situated in the Alps on the border between France and Italy.
Metropolitan France also has extensive river systems such as the Loire, the Garonne, the Seine and the Rhône, which divides the Massif Central from the Alps and flows into the Mediterranean sea at the Camargue, the lowest point in France (2 m / 6.5 ft below sea level). Corsica lies off the Mediterranean coast.
France’s total land area, with its overseas departments and territories (excluding Adélie Land), is 674,843 square kilometres (260,558 sq mi), 0.45% of the total land area on Earth. However, France possesses the second-largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world, covering 11,035,000 square kilometres (4,260,000 sq mi), approximately 8% of the total surface of all the EEZs of the world, just behind the United States (11,351,000 km² / 4,383,000 sq mi) and ahead of Australia (8,232,000 km² / 3,178,000 sq mi).
Metropolitan France is situated between 41° and 51° North, on the western edge of Europe, and thus lies within the northern temperate zone. The north and northwest have a temperate climate, while a combination of maritime influences, latitude and altitude produce a varied climate in the rest of Metropolitan France. In the south-east a Mediterranean climate prevails. In the west, the climate is predominantly oceanic with a high level of rainfall, mild winters and cool to warm summers. Inland the climate becomes more continental with hot, stormy summers, colder winters and less rain. The climate of the Alps and other mountainous regions is mainly alpine, with the number of days with temperatures below freezing over 150 per year and snow cover lasting for up to six months.