01 of 09
The Main Mountain Ranges of France
The 7 main mountain ranges of France are beautiful and varied, running from the mighty Alps in the east and to the south east to the granite landscape of the Morvan in Burgundy. All offer both winter and summer playgrounds. You can hike, swim and fish in the summer, and ski and enjoy a host of alternative sports in the winter.
Read more about Border Travel in FranceContinue to 2 of 9 below.
02 of 09
The French Alps
The French Alps lie in the east of the country and border Switzerland and Italy. The highest peak and the highest mountain is Mont Blanc. At 15,774 ft (4,808 meters) it is also the highest mountain in western Europe, though its height varies according to the snow cap. Mont Blanc was first climbed in August 1786 by Jacques Balmat and Michel-Gabriel Paccard.
Here below Mont Blanc in the Chamonix valley you’ll find some of the best winter sports in the world. But it’s also one of the most beautiful parts of France for summer pleasures: hiking through the high pastures, climbing the mountains and cycling as followers of the Tour de France have discovered.
The Alps are one of the great mountain range systems of both Europe and the world. It took hundreds of millions of years for the Alps to form as the African and Eurasian tectonic plates collided, pushing rocks and debris into the glorious high mountain peaks you see today. Covering around 750 miles (1,200 kms) they range across eight... countries from Austria and Slovenia in the east, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany and France to the west, and Italy and Monaco to the south.Continue to 3 of 9 below.
03 of 09
The Massif Central and the Auvergne Mountains
The volcanic Massif Central is geologically the oldest part of the country. It covers a huge area of central France – about 15% of the country, around 182,040 square kilometers.
There are four main volcanic massifs: the Chaîne des Puys, the Monts Dore, the Monts du Cantal and the Volcanic Velay, all of them different and spectacular in their own way. The highest peak is the Puy de Sancy at 6,184 ft (1,885 meters), one of the youngest volcanoes in the Chaîne des Puys. There are around 450 extinct volcanoes in the Massif. The Auvergne Volcanoes National Park, established in 1977 is both Europe's largest regional park and also one of the oldest. It runs from south of Clermont Ferrand almost to Aurillac in the west and just short of St-Flour in the east. But if you want to learn more of the region and volcanoes, visit Vulcania, not in the park but north of Clermont-Ferrand.
The Auvergne is still relatively unknown, for long kept apart by the lack of access. It’s quite glorious, with its... rolling mountains, great rivers and valleys and forests. It’s a place for walking, overland skiing, bird watching, fishing and cycling if you want to keep fit. There is one main ski resort, Super Besse in the south, which connects to the resort of Mon-Dore. But it’s mainly an area for overland skiing.
Several of France’s great rivers rise in the Auvergne: the Loire which is France's longest river, the Allier, the Cher and the Sioule.
More about the Auvergne and its SecretsContinue to 4 of 9 below.
04 of 09
The Pyrenees (les Pyrénées), stretch from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean coasts in the south of France, marking the division between France and Spain, with tiny Andorra lying among the mountains. The mountain range is 270 miles (430 kms) long with its widest point at 80 miles (129 kms). The highest point is Aneto Peak at 11,169 ft (3,404 meters) in the Maladeta (‘Accursed’) central Pyrenees massif, and there are many other peaks over 9,842 ft (3,000 meters).
The two extremes have very different characters. In the west the area is Basque speaking; in the eastern Mediterranean end it’s Catalan-speaking. It's best known as Cathar country, the area where the Cathar heretics lived and hid and were finally slaughtered and destroyed by the French crusades in the 13th century. If you're here, don't miss Montsegur where the heretics made their last, heroic stand against the catholic powers.
In the center the Parc National des Pyrénées is a walkers’ paradise. There are numerous... short routes through the Pyrenees, with one main route, the GR 10, running from coast to coast.
More about the Pyrenees
Continue to 5 of 9 below.
- More about the Pyrenees; a summer and winter playground
05 of 09
The Jura Mountain range extends over 225 miles (360 kms) in both France and Switzerland, stretching from the Rhône River to the Rhine. Much of the western sector is in France. The highest peaks are in the south around Geneva, with the Crêt de la Neige in Ain at 5,636 ft (1,718 meters) and Le Reculet at 5,633 ft (1,717 meters) in France.
The range is formed from fossil-bearing limestone. It was called Jura Limestone by the explorer, naturalist and geographer Alexander von Humboldt and from this came the name Jurassic period, referring to rocks formed at the same time – 200 to 145 million years ago.
The Jura covers most of Franche-Comté and further south into some of the Rhône-Alpes, ending in the Savoie. To the north, the Jura extends into southern Alsace. A large part is protected by the Jura Mountains Regional Natural Park.
More about the JuraContinue to 6 of 9 below.
06 of 09
The gentle rounded Vosges mountains are divided into the High Vosges (where the rounded summits are called ballons, or balloons), the Middle Vosges and the Low Vosges. The mountains lie in the east of France, near the border with Germany in Lorraine. They run along the west side of the Rhine valley from Belfort to Saverne. To the north the red sandstone outcrops were quarried for building materials through the centuries, producing the attractive cathedrals, castles and churches of the region. Glacial lakes fill the area and forests cover the slopes while the Hautes Chaumes are rich pasturelands.
There are great walking trails including the Grand Randonnees, the GR5, GR7 and GR53 as well as cycle trains. During the winter, there are 36 different skiing areas offering cross-country routes and some downhill pistes.Continue to 7 of 9 below.
07 of 09
The island of Corsica, around 100 miles (170 kms) from the French mainland, is mainly mountainous with the ranges making up two thirds of the island. It has been called both the Island of Beauty by the Greeks and the Mountain in the Sea.
The highest peak is Monte Cintu at 8,891 ft (2,710 meters). Twenty other mountains stand at over 6,561 ft (3,000 meters) and Corsica boasts the highest mountains and the most rivers of any Mediterranean island. The mountains effectively cut the island in half with no road between the two main towns of Bastia in the north and Ajaccio in the south. The Parc Naturel Régional de la Corse contains all the main mountain massifs and is a spectacular place. There are great guided walks offered by the Office National des Forêts, while the ancient trails and bridleways and well known routes like the GR20 attract more serious walkers.
More about CorsicaContinue to 8 of 9 below.
08 of 09
Morvan Massif in Burgundy
The Morvan is the smallest of France’s mountain ranges, though usually counted in any list of France’s main mountains.
It’s a high massif in Burgundy, just west of the Côte d’Or region, known for its wines and wine tourism. The The granite and basalt range is really the north west extension of the Massif Central and covers four departments: Nièvre, Saône-et-Loire, Yonne et Côte d'Or. The Parc Naturel Regional du Morvan protects its heart. The Park includes communes and 10 towns with around 35,000 inhabitants. The highest peaks run from 1,312 ft (400 meters) to the Haut-Folin at 2,956 ft (901 meters). Here you’ll find 24 miles (40 km) of cross-country skiing.
More about BurgundyContinue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
The Geology of France
The whole of the history of the Earth can be seen within the boundaries of France starting with the Massif Central being formed 600 million years ago.
If you want to find out more about the geology of France, check out the information on the site of the BRGM, the Bureau de recherches géologiques et minières which is the national geological survey organization of France. In 2011, it completed the Geological Map of France to 1/50000 after 70 years of research by around 3000 geologists had produced 1,060 maps covering the whole of France. The project cost around 300 million euros. It was France’s largest geosciences research program.
Now the BRGM is working on producing a digital database for all the geological information on France in 3D.