Did you know that the country of France is bordered by mountains? The Pyrenees, the Alps, the Jura and the Vosges are the principal ranges which encompass this great land. Tourists, myself included, typically travel to the great cities in France when on holiday: Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg, Marseille, Nice, to name a few. However, for those who love being a part of nature, these mountains offer a better venue.
Les Alpes. Probably the most famous mountain range and the most visited in France would be the French Alps which lie to the east side of the country. Of course, Switzerland and Italy have provided easy access and incredible viewing to the Alps which cover 750 miles and range across eight countries: Austria, Slovenia, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, France, Italy and Monaco. I have visited two parts of the Alps to date in Lucerne, Switzerland and Hallstatt, Austria.
The Alps possess the highest mountain in Europe: Mount Blanc. Also, Napoleon Bonaparte was very fortunate to have the fertile valley between the Alps to lead his army into Italy.
Les Pyrénées stretch from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean coasts in the south of France, marking the border between France and Spain. Their ridges are very sharp and high in the clouds; the highest point is in Spain. It was at the Roncevaux pass of the Pyrénées that Roland was killed in 778 while leading Charlemagne’s army.
I had a chance to visit the eastern most tail of the Pyrénées which dips into the Mediterranean in Collioure. These rolling hills are covered in castles and vineyards!
Le Jura. The Jura Mountain range extends in both France and Switzerland stretching from the Rhone River to the Rhine. It covers most of Franche-Compté ending in the Savoie. To the north, the Jura extends into southern Alsace, my homeland!!
These chains are chalky and have numerous valleys bordered by high cliffs.
Les Vosges is the final range which borders France in the East with Germany. World War I and II historians are very familiar with these mountains and the bloody battles fought within them. This range is draped with pines, firs and beech trees and separates Alsace from Lorraine. Formed of grey and rose sandstone, the tops of the Vosges are rounded like balloons. Many of the battles between 1914-1918 were fought within the Ardenne section of the Vosges, a barren grazing land.
Le Massif Central. In the central part of France, the Massif Central, lies the Auvergne Mountains where the great rivers of the Loire, the Allier, the Cher and the Sioule all rise. This range was formed by volcanoes from the tertiary period. These volcanoes are today extinct but have left massive granite masses behind.
Les Monts de Bretagne. Finally, the mountain range on the north west coast of France is the Monts de Bretagne. This range forms a V which divides the east from the west. The Arree Mountains of Brittany are low lying, grassy peaks.
These great mountain ranges of France have protected its citizens since the 3rd century. They have also become a resting place for the thousands who have helped protect France through two World Wars. Many monuments have been established in these mountain ranges: the Allied on Mont Cassel in Flanders; the hills of Artois with the crest of the Vimy crown, a magnificent monument to the memory of Canadian soldiers, Monts de Champagne which distinguishes the American naval infantry; the mountain of Argonne in the village of Romagne- sub-Montfaucon where rests the bodies of 14,255 American soldiers; and the coast of Meuse, north of Verdun.
Francois Denoeu. Petit Miroir de la Civilisation Francaise. Dartmouth. 1949.
Copyright 2019 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com).