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French Climate, There’s Something for EveryoneWhether you’re a sun seeker or prefer fresher weather, love the snow or enjoy the verdant landscape of wetter climes, France has something for everyone. If you’re thinking of visiting either for a holiday or on a more long-term basis, you’ve got a great choice about where to settle, depending on the type of weather that suits you most.
Generally, France has a warmer climate than the UK, with four distinct seasons. There are extended periods of sunshine, with lovely long summers perfect for outdoor living and al fresco dining. But you can also experience crisp winters and heavy snowfall.
The reason for the marked differences in the weather is the geography of the country. France has coastlines on four different bodies of water - the North Sea, the Channel, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. It also has some cooler, wetter regions in the foothills of the Alps, Pyrenees and Jura mountain ranges and the large area of mountainous terrain in the centre of the country called the Massif Central. This means that the weather can be vastly different even within just a small area.
This difference in the French climate affects everything from the activities that people undertake to the type of flora and fauna that thrive there. It also creates perfect conditions for distinctive growing regions, providing a wealth of different kinds of produce. Think of the lavender, olives and almonds of Provence, sunflowers in the Loire, the orchards of Normandy, and the many wine-growing regions of Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Champagne, Côtes du Rhone, Jura, Occitanie, the Loire Valley, Médoc and Provence.
This area of lowland is subject to the whim of the weather coming in off the Atlantic, and has a climate that is similar to the South East of England. The weather in this area is generally quite temperate all year round, so summers are not overly hot and winters not too harsh. But it’s also an area where rain can start falling at any time.
The southern part of France enjoys a Mediterranean climate of hot summers and mild winters, with average temperatures higher than those in the north. Many of the towns further inland and in Provence get very hot during the summer months, and are popular destinations for sun seekers who flock to places like St Tropez and Marseille, where the sun shines on average for 300 days a year.
The south-west area of the country tends to experience more rainfall than elsewhere in the south, due to the influence of the Pyrenees mountains. In central southern France, regular thunderstorms are a short but spectacular occurrence during the warm summer months.
But if you can’t get enough of the sun, the French Riviera, or Cote d’Azur, is renowned as the sunniest and hottest part of the country. Tourist hotspots such as Cannes, Nice and Monaco have their own hot microclimate due to the protective presence of the nearby Alps, which prevent the powerful Mistral wind (see below) from hitting too hard from the north.
In the east of the country there is a very distinct contrast between warm summers and cold winters. The Jura and Alps mountain ranges in this area mean that the high altitude, coupled with the lack of warmth from the distant sea, makes for long, cold and snowy winters.
In fact, if it’s snow you’re after, then the best place to find it is in the regions around the Alps. Here, snowfall is the greatest and can last for the longest – often from October to May – so it’s no surprise that a whole industry has been built up here around skiing and other winter leisure pursuits.
This area of France can also be inviting even if you’re not particularly a fan of snow, as it also tends to be drier than other areas, with warmer summers, especially in the southern part of eastern France. Thunderstorms are common during the summer months.
Central France, in inland cities like Grenoble and Lyon, can have an intense heat during the summer months, and mild winters. But the Massif Central mountain range, which covers about 15 per cent of the country in the central and southern regions, makes the climate in this area similar to that of the east of the country. Therefore, the winters are longer and colder, with more snowfall, but the summers can be hotter. There is less rain here during the summer, although that can make the weather rather stifling.
The west of France, along the Atlantic coastline, offers a moderate difference in temperatures from season to season, with mild winters and cooler summers, along with moderate rainfall.
But the Charente-Maritime and Vendée departments, including popular places on the coast such as La Rochelle, are some of the sunniest parts of France, with the heat not so intense as in the south because of the gentle breeze coming in off the Atlantic.
Take a look at our interactive map to learn about various french regions and their 96 departments.