Intro to France – The Northern Regions

Eiffel Tower as seen from the Seine

To generalize France based on one or two locations would be as much of a mistake as generalizing the United States based on just New York City or Laramie, Wyoming. The regions of France are diverse, each with its own culture, landscape, and history. Here is an overview of some of the major regions of France. 

To develop this article, I relied heavily on the DK Eyewitness travel book on France, last updated in 2019. This post will cover the six northern regions and will be followed by two more posts to cover the central and southern regions.

Paris and Surrounding Area

Paris makes the most sense as the starting point for France, as that is the main point of entry. Most major international US airports have a direct flight to Paris. In addition, you can easily get to Paris from London via the Channel Tunnel.

Paris alone can be the subject of a single blog post. So, suffice it to say that the major points of interest in Paris are well known including the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Champs Élysee, and the Arc De Triomphe. Just outside the city to the west is the Palace of Versailles. Northwest of the city is Giverny, famous for Claude Monet’s gardens which were an inspiration for much of his work. To the north of Paris is Saint-Denis, which dates back to the second century.

Normandy

Known primarily for the landing point of the Allied Invasion of France in 1944, this area has also been invaded and settled by Romans, Vikings and Anglo-Saxons. The region is also famous for Mont St. Michel, an abbey located on the coast and completely surrounded by water at high tide. Other popular spots in this region include Cherbourg and Le Havre. 

In addition, the area is full of small seaside towns to explore, and seaside resorts in Carbourg and Étretat.  And throughout the area there are plenty plenty of great food options.

Brittany

Just west of Normandy, Brittany is famous for the prehistoric monuments found there. These include coastal megaliths that are reminiscent of Stonehenge, and large burial tombs. This area is also known for its red granite coastline called the Côte de Granit Rose.

This region has also been inhabited by Celts, Romans and Anglo-Saxons. 

Le Nord and Picardy

Located north of Paris, this area is heavily influenced by the Flemish due to its proximity to Belgium. The port town of Calais is located in this region, as is the town of Dunkirk, significant for the evaculation of British forces when Germany invaded France at the beginning of World War II.

But even more significant is the severity of the World War I battles fought in this region, including the Battle of the Somme in which over 1 million Allied and German Soldiers lost their lives in fighting. 

 

 

Champagne

This is the region where the famous sparkling white wine came from, and only wine produced in this region can legally be called Champagne. This region was an independent sovereign nation until 1790. 

Alsace-Lorraine

Also known for its distinctive wines, the Alsace-Lorraine region sits on the border with Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium. The major cities in this region include Strasbourg, located on the German border, Nancy and Verdun. Verdun was also a major battle site in World War I, where over 1 million men were also killed in battle.

There is a wine route now in the region called the Alsace Route des Vins and extends 110 miles from Molsheim to Guebwiller. 

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