Besides its culture and gastronomy, the thing I enjoy the most about living in France is the nature and the mountains. Since I plan on writing some of my mountain trips in France, this article provide a general background on the subject.
I am no expert in geology, but I found this simple map that explains the different geological periods of different areas in France.
The Parisian basin, together with the Acquitan and the Flanders bassins, are part of the most recent geological era: the Ceno-Mesozoic era (started from -252,2 Ma for Mesozoic). The Massif Armoricain, the Massif Central, the Vosges, and the Ardennes are part of earlier Hercynian period (between -400 to -245 Ma). The Alpes domain, covering the east and south border of France were formed due to the opening and closing of the oceanic basin during the Ceno-Mesozoic era. For those who are interested, The French Geological Survey (BRGM) provide more detailed informations on the subject.
France has five main mountain chains: the Alpes, the Pyrénées, the Jura, the Vosges, and the Massif Central. From above geological map, it makes no surprise that all these chains are spreaded on the half south-east of France. Mountains with altitude higher than 2000m above sea level are found in the Alpes and the Pyrénées. Top five mountains with most topographic prominence are located in the Alpes including the very famous Mont Blanc, Barre des Ecrins, Chamechaude, Arcalod, and Pointe Percée. Mont Blanc top other mountains with 4808m of altitude and prominence around 4695m. Other mountains in France have topographic prominence around 2000m or less.
Living in Grenoble, the heart of Alpes, for four years and counting, I got the opportunity to explore some of these mountains; mainly in the French Alpes (the Alpes is shared with neighbours countries). I have visited the Jura and the Vosges as well, but due to geographic distance I haven’t had any chance to explore the Massif Central nor the Pyrénées.