France, officially the French Republic (French: République française [ʁepyblik fʁɑ̃sɛz]), is a unitary sovereign state comprising territory in western Europe and several overseas regions and territories.[note 13] Metropolitan France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean; due to its shape, it is often referred to in French as l’Hexagone ("The Hexagon"). France is one of only three countries (with Morocco and Spain) to have both Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines.
France has been a major power in Europe since the Late Middle Ages, reaching the height of global prominence during the 19th and early 20th centuries, when it possessed the second-largest colonial empire in the world. Throughout its long history, France has produced many influential artists, thinkers, and scientists, and remains a prominent global center of culture. It hosts the world's fourth-largest number of cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites and receives around 83 million foreign tourists annually – the most of any country in the world.
Metropolitan France is situated mostly between latitudes 41° and 51° N, and longitudes 6° W and 10° E, on the western edge of Europe, and thus lies within the northern temperate zone.
From northeast to southwest, France shares borders with Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Spain and Andorra. France also borders Suriname to its west and Brazil to its east and south, by way of the overseas region of French Guiana, which is considered an integral part of the Republic.
The north and northwest have a temperate climate, while a combination of maritime influences, latitude and altitude produce a varied climate in the rest of Metropolitan France. In the south-east a Mediterranean climate prevails. In the west, the climate is predominantly oceanic with a high level of rainfall, mild winters and warm summers. Inland the climate becomes more continental with hot, stormy summers, colder winters and less rain. The climate of the Alps and other mountainous regions is mainly alpine, with the number of days with temperatures below freezing over 150 per year and snow cover lasting for up to six months.
The railway network of France, which as of 2008 stretches 29,473 kilometres (18,314 mi) is the second most extensive in Western Europe after that of Germany. It is operated by the SNCF, and high-speed trains include the Thalys, the Eurostar and TGV, which travels at 320 km/h (199 mph) in commercial use. The Eurostar, along with the Eurotunnel Shuttle, connects with the United Kingdom through the Channel Tunnel. Rail connections exist to all other neighbouring countries in Europe, except Andorra. Intra-urban connections are also well developed with both underground services and tramway services complementing bus services.
There are approximately 1,027,183 kilometres (638,262 mi) of serviceable roadway in France, ranking it the most extensive network of the European continent. The Paris region is enveloped with the most dense network of roads and highways that connect it with virtually all parts of the country. French roads also handle substantial international traffic, connecting with cities in neighbouring Belgium, Spain, Andorra, Monaco, Switzerland, Germany and Italy. There is no annual registration fee or road tax; however, motorway usage is through tolls except in the vicinity of large communes. The new car market is dominated by domestic brands such as Renault (27% of cars sold in France in 2003), Peugeot (20.1%) and Citroën (13.5%). Over 70% of new cars sold in 2004 had diesel engines, far more than contained petrol or LPG engines. France possesses the Millau Viaduct, the world's tallest bridge, and has built many important bridges such as the Pont de Normandie.