France is a republic in Western Europe extending from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is the largest western European country and it possesses the second-largest exclusive economic zone in the world, just behind that of the United States.
Over the past 500 years, France has been a major power with strong cultural, economic, military and political influence in Europe and around the world. France is ranked as the number one tourist destination in the world, ahead of Spain and the United States with Mont Saint-Michel being one of the most visited sites of France. France has 37 sites that have been added to UNESCO's World Heritage List. France possesses cities of high cultural interest with Paris being at the top of the list, but there is also Toulouse, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Lyon, and others.
Tourists are drawn to the numerous beaches and seaside resorts, ski resorts, and rural regions of beauty and tranquillity. The small and picturesque French villages of cultural and historical value, such as Collonges-la-Rouge or Locronan, are promoted through the association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France - "The Most Beautiful Villages of France". The Remarkable Gardens label is a list of the over two hundred gardens classified by the French Ministry of Culture intended to protect and promote remarkable gardens and parks.
Paris has some of the world's largest and renowned museums, including the Louvre, which is the most visited art museum in the world, but others include the Musée d'Orsay, mostly devoted to Impressionism, and the Beaubourg which is dedicated to Contemporary Art.
France is located in Western Europe, but 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 kilometers or 211,209 square miles, making it the largest among European Union members.
France contains a diverse variety of landscapes, from its coastal plains in the north and west to its mountain ranges in the Alps in the south east, the Massif Central in the south central and the Pyrenees in the south west. Situated at 4,810 meters or 15,782 feet above sea level, the highest point in Western Europe, Mont Blanc, is situated in the Alps on the border between France and Italy. The country also has extensive river systems such as the Seine, the Loire, the Garonne, and the Rhone, which divide the Massif Central from the Alps and flows into the Mediterranean Sea at the Camargue.
The north and northwest have a temperate climate with the combination of maritime influences of latitude and altitude producing a varied climate in the rest of the country. In the south east the residents enjoy a Mediterranean climate. In the west, the climate is mainly 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 with 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 the snow cover lasting for up to six months...