As one of countries starting with F according to Countryaah, France stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the north-west (English Channel) and west to the Mediterranean in the south. In the southwest it extends to the ridge of the Pyrenees (in the Pic de Vignemale 3 298 m above sea level), over which the borders with Andorra and Spain run. In the southeast the national territory meets the Western Alps (Mont Blanc, 4,810 m above sea level) with the borders with Switzerland and Italy and in the east the Upper Rhine Plain (Alsace, Germany). In the northeast, France extends to the Rhenish Slate Mountains (Ardennes) with the borders to Belgium and Luxembourg and in the north to the Strait of Dover.
The surface shape is mainly characterized by the alternation of low mountain ranges and merging basin landscapes. The resulting good patency made long-distance routes possible even in prehistoric times. The ramified systems of the main streams, only separated from one another by low thresholds, were connected early on by canals, which today, however, are often out of date and have been abandoned or serve tourist purposes.
The central landscape of France is (since the historical shift of the political and cultural emphasis from the Mediterranean area) the Paris basin, a wide-stretched layered landscape with moderate relief and stepped foreheads turned outwards (particularly striking in the northeast), those of the Seine and its tributaries on the way broken into the basin interior, in the northeast of the Meuse and Moselle to be accompanied. In the general landscape, the land steps take a back seat compared to the large-scale leveling. Some of them did not get their current slope forms until the periglacial climate of the last Ice Age, just like the loess cover, which is particularly thick in the north and which is important for agriculture.
The Paris basin is surrounded by four ancient mountains: the Armorican Mountains in the west, the Ardennes in the northeast, the Vosges in the east and the Massif Central in the south.
They represent fragments of the late Paleozoic Variski Mountains leveled into rump mountains, only bulging in the course of the tertiary mountain formation, or fragments of the late Paleozoic Variski Mountains broken into clods along tectonic faults; The North French-Belgian coal deposits belong to their carbon layers. The heavily forested Ardennes (in France up to about 500 m above sea level) are broken through by the Meuse to the north. Like the no less wooded, much higher Vosges (1,423 m above sea level) with the French part of the Upper Rhine Rift (Alsace), they are border landscapes. West of the Ardennes is the easiest access to the Paris basin, the low threshold of the Artois, a much traveled peoples’ way to the southwest; Paris developed at its crossing over the Seine.
Of the four old mountain blocks, the Armorican (“Armorika”), which protrudes in the Cotentin peninsula against the English Channel, in Brittany against the Atlantic Ocean, is the least prominent.
It has been removed to form a wavy, geologically multi-segmented hull. Its Riyal coast, which is divided into numerous bays, bears witness to the rise and fall of the sea level (the last was the Dunkirk Transgression) and the associated lowering of the estuaries below sea level. The wildly torn cliffs and the numerous offshore islands and rocky reefs testify to the force of the surf, which is reinforced by high tides. The Armorican massif extends into the Vendée south of the lower Loire and is separated from the massif central by the flat sill of Poitou.
The mighty block of the Massif Central is lightly forested and rises gently from the west and north. Its southeast and eastern flanks, on the other hand, are high, steep and sharply cut. Deep and wide, tectonically mapped out, the trenches of the Allier Valley and the Upper Loire Valley encroach from the north. On the side of the trenches on the hull surface (Auvergne) rise the well-preserved forms of volcanic mountains from the Tertiary and Quaternary periods (Chaîne des Puys, Puy de Dôme 1,465 m above sea level); extensive volcanic mountains and blankets formed in the Pliocene and Miocene (Mont-Dore 1,886 m, Cantal 1,858 m above sea level).
The highest areas bear traces of local glaciation in the ice ages. On the southern edge, huge parcels of the Jura cover layers have also been lifted to 1,700 m above sea level. They are cut by the rivers in deep canyons (gorges). The limestone tablets of the Causses layered landscape are heavily karstified.
The Aquitaine Basin, filled with Mesozoic and Tertiary layers, extends between the Massif Central and the Pyrenees. The first folds of the Pyrenees emerged from this depression since the Middle Cretaceous, intensified in the older Tertiary. The rubble that was increasingly delivered with the uplift of the mountains filled the foreland, that of the last folds in the Oligocene was still included. This structure provided the prerequisites for the formation of oil and gas deposits. The rubbish fans in front of the rising Pyrenees have been severely cut up by the rivers and form reed landscapes. Towards the coast, they merge into the sandy »Landes«, formerly occupied by swamp and heather, since the 19th century by pine forest, which are closed off from the sea by mighty dune walls and a series of lagoon and beach lakes (»Étangs«).
Another large transit area is the Rhône-Saône Depression. It is part of a large tectonic rift zone (Mediterranean-Mjösen zone) that takes on the character of a plateau and hill country between Lyon and the Upper Rhine Rift near Mulhouse(Mulhouse) in the border area of the Jura. In the south the furrow opens to the French Mediterranean landscapes: the alluvial land and lagoon coast of the Languedoc in the west and, east of the Rhône delta (Camargue), the bay-rich rocky coast of Provence and the Côte d’Azur. In the east it is delimited by the foothills of the Alps and the Alps, the formation of which also began in the Middle Cretaceous.
The Jura got its present day features from the folds against the abutments of the old massifs, which for their part were only influenced by the formation of clods and rifts.