France is a large country, roughly three times the size of the UK, and the third largest European country by area. The size of France makes it too challenging to try and learn about every area in one go and working on a smaller geography is necessary.
Buying in France
If you’re thinking about buying a place in France and aren’t sure where to start then researching the different landscapes, climates and cultures of different areas is important. But to do that you’ll need to know a little about the different geographies in the country.
Regions, Departments & Provinces
There are three main boundary classifications that become apparent when you start to look at France: regions, departments and provinces. Getting to grips with the different boundaries used in guidebooks, websites and property portfolios is a really important step in planning where to buy. It’s tempting to jump straight into reading about tourist hotspots and property bargains, but we believe an understanding of these geographies is an essential first step.
Regions of France
There are 18 regions in France. These consist of 12 mainland regions, Corsica and 5 overseas regions. The regions are the large-scale administrative boundaries of France, with each region covering vast areas. To put it in perspective, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France’s largest region is about 1,500 sq. m larger than Scotland.
We love About-France’s guide to the different regions of France.
French Regions Before 2016
If you’re browsing websites or using guidebooks that are a little out of date, then the chances are that you might encounter a slightly different geography to that described above. The reason is that prior to 2016 there were 27 regions. The reduction was achieved by merging a number of the smaller regions to create new boundaries.
The other important geographical boundary in France is the department. A department is quite a bit smaller than a region. There are 101 departments. The department is a helpful scale for doing research on different areas and each has its own distinct characteristics. Map-France has a really good map showing each department.
Mixed Boundaries & Provinces
It can get a little confusing if you’re using lots of different websites and books. Shifting between pre- and post-reform geographies is one thing, but some property websites seem to operate on maps that don’t fit either system. For instance, browse properties on rightmove overseas and you’ll see a map that uses legacy geographies like Gascony, and Quercy, which were former provinces. The province system was formally disbanded in 1790… so it’s definitely a more historical approach, but one that you will likely encounter in places as names have stuck over time.
Popular Areas of France
When considering where to holiday or move to in France it’s likely that you’ll have some areas in mind. There are certain places in France that are particularly popular, and this serves well to demonstrate how the different geographies come in to play.
For example, you might consider the following well-known destinations: Brittany (region), Normandy (region), Dordogne (department), Burgundy (former region prior to 2016) Provence (province – historical), Loire Valley (spans two departments: Pays de la Loire and Centre Val de Loire). Each geography will appear in your research, but it pays to know what scale of area you’re looking at. Having an idea of the relationship between different systems will make your research a lot easier.
Our Next Steps
Over the coming months we’ll be doing research into the different areas of France we might want to live. We’ll be updating the blog with details of our approach to researching locations – and we’ll be looking at regions, provinces and departments!
Get in Touch
If you’ve found any great websites for making a sense of French boundaries, or have come across any good sources of information for different areas in the country we’d love to hear from you.