• FACTS ABOUT FRANCE:
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.
• It also borders the Mediterranean Sea in the southeast; and the Alps, Switzerland, and Italy in the east. France has a very diverse landscape. There are beaches on the southeast coast, home to the French Riviera, and towering mountains in the south and east, including Europe's tallest peak, Mont Blanc, which rises to 15,781 feet (4,810 meters) within the French Alps.
• 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.
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.