It’s the largest country in Western Europe and the continent’s agricultural heart. Its landscape is divided between the plains and rolling hills of the north and west, and the mountainous south. Throughout history the rivers of France have influenced this landscape and helped shape everything from its famous wine and cheese industries, to its world-renowned cities.
In this article, we’ll explore the longest rivers of France, where they are located and their unique features. And we’ll begin with the largest river in France, the Loire.
1. Loire: The Biggest River in France
Length: 625-635 miles
The Loire River is the largest river in France, stretching for over 600 miles from its source in the Massif Central to its mouth at the Atlantic Ocean. What’s more, its basin drains more than a fifth of the country.
Along its journey, France’s longest river passes through some of the country’s most iconic regions, including the Loire Valley – home to dozens of chateaux and vineyards. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Loire Valley is renowned for its beauty and history. The Loire River has been an important trade route since ancient times, and today it remains an important part of French culture and industry.
Length: 485 miles
The Seine is one of the best-known as well as one of the longest rivers in France. Running through the centre of Paris, it’s synonymous with the French capital and its architectural wonders. In the city of Paris alone, 37 bridges cross the river, including the famous Pont Neuf. The Seine is also dotted with a number of small islands, including the Île de la Cité, home to Notre Dame Cathedral.
As well as being one of France’s longest rivers, it’s also one of the busiest. Beginning in Source-Seine, some 20 miles from Dijon, it travels 485 miles to its mouth at Le Havre, emptying into the English Channel. It forms a vital link between Paris and France’s biggest port, which is one of the main reasons why most of the country’s inland water traffic passes through it.
Length: 374 miles
Located in southwest France and northern Spain, the Garonne River is the third longest river in France. Rising in the Spanish Pyrenees, it crosses into France after about 30 miles and travels a further 300 miles until it joins with the Dordogne River, forming the Gironde estuary at Bordeaux. From there, it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Excluding the estuary, the river is 329 miles in length, extended to 374 miles when it is included.
The basin of the Garonne is approximately 22,000 square miles in area, roughly twice the size of Belgium. If one includes the Dordogne in this calculation, the catchment increases to almost 33,000 square miles.
As well as ranking among the longest rivers of France, the Garonne has an unusual phenomenon in the form of a tidal bore. Known as the Mascaret wave, it generates waves as high as 10 feet. This makes it a popular venue for surfing. Fishing is also a common activity on the Garonne, with pike and perch amongst the species found there.
4. The Rhône
Length: 324 miles in France
The Rhône River rises in the Swiss Alps, travelling some 180 miles in Switzerland before entering France through Lake Geneva. It then travels through southeastern France for a further 324 miles before entering the Mediterranean Sea.
Not only is it one of the longest rivers in France, but it’s also one of the biggest rivers to empty into the Mediterranean. Known for its strong currents, the Rhone is a major source of hydroelectric power, and also provides water for industry and agriculture.
5. River Marne
Length: 319 miles
The fifth entry on this list of the longest rivers of France is a tributary of the Seine, the River Marne. Originating at the Langres Plateau in northern France, it flows approximately 319 miles through the Champagne region, its drainage basin covering around 5,000 square miles. When it reaches the suburb of Charenton, it empties into the Seine. During World War I, the Marne was the site of two important battles, the first in 1914, the second in 1918.
France's Longest Rivers
The longest rivers of France provide this large European nation with a variety of benefits. Whether it’s in industry or agriculture, recreation or power supply, France’s longest rivers are hardworking waterways.