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Region of Rhône-Alpes, Département Information

The Départements of Rhône-Alpes
The département of Ain, which was formed from a part of Burgundy in 1790, is located in the far eastern part of France.  It is positioned between the Saône River, to the west, and the Rhône River to the south.  It is adjacent to Switzerland and occupies the most northern part of the Rhône-Alpes region.  It is surrounded by the départements of  Saône-et-Loire and Jura to the north, Haute-Savoie, Savoie and Switzerland to the east, Isère to the south and Rhône to the west.  The département is cut in half by the Ain River, a principal supplier of hydroelectric power, which flows south to the Rhône.  Its capital is Bourg-en-Bresse

The Jura Mountains rise in the eastern part of Ain, where the peaks of Mont Reculet and  Crêt de la Neige reach more than 5640 feet.  This area is covered with large forests and pastures.  Considerable cattle breeding takes place there and dairy products, including cheese, are produced. 

In the west of Ain are two low regions.  The lowest is the Bresse plain where the rich soils support farming and livestock raising, which includes pig and poultry raising.  The Dombes upland, which is used mainly for fish, geese and horse and cattle breeding, has poor soils, glacial deposits and marshlands.  There is some silk production in small towns near Lyon. 

On the east end of Lac de Nantua is a Benedictine abbey that was founded in the 7th or 8th century.  Divonne-les-Bains is a spa and winter resort town.  The walled town of Pérouges has a large number of houses dating from the 15th and 16th century.  Its pride is a 12th century inn. 

Ain’s economic activities include tourism, stock raising, cheese making, forest activities, small manufacturing, diamond cutting, watch making, lens crafting and precision machinery and plastics manufacturing.  Calcium carbide is mined near Bellegard.  The Ain and Rhône rivers supply hydroelectric power.

The southeastern département of Ardèche is situated in the highland on the edge of the Massif Central.  It was formed from the Vivarais district of Languedoc in 1790.  It is surrounded by the départements of  Loire and Isère to the north, by Drôme to the east, by  Gard to the south and by Lozère and Haute-Loire to the west.  The département contains much of the volcanically created Cévennes and Vivarais mountains, which contain many warm springs. The département’s principal rivers are the Allier [which forms Ain’s eastern boundary], Ardèche, Doux, Erieux and the Rhône [which forms Ain’s eastern boundry].  Mont Mézenc, on the Velay volcanic plateau, reaches 5751 feet. 

In 1629, Louis XIII of France, destroyed the fortress town of Privas in an attempt to put down a Calvinist revolt.  The rebuilt town is now the capital of Ardèche. 

Agriculture is Ain’s principal activity.  Fruit trees and some olive trees are grown in the lower valleys, together with the cultivation of cereal, potatoes, fodder, and grape vines. 

At the higher elevations, not exceeding 2500, chestnuts are harvested.  Still higher up there are summer pastures for cattle and sheep.  There are cement plants located along the Rhône River valley.

The département of Drôme was created in 1790 from the old provinces of Provence and Dauphiné.  It is located in southeast France and is bordered by the départements of Isère to the north, Hautes-Alpes to the east, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Vaucluse to the south and Ardèche to the west.  The Rhône River runs along its eastern border for almost 70 miles.  Valence, the capital of Drôme, is located on the Rhône River.  The Drôme and Isère rivers also flow through the département.  

The Autoroute du Sud cuts through Drôme along the east bank of the Rhône, the départements only navigable river.  A system of canals connects with the Rhône, and inturn, connects the Rhône with the Rhine and other navigable waterways.  There are several hydroelectric power generating plants along the Rhône and at Pierrelatte.  South of Montélimar is France’s most important nuclear power generating plant.  Grains and fruits are cultivated in Drôme.  Because of Italian and Chinese competition, the once important industry of raising silk worms, and the spinning of silk, deteriorated at the beginning of the 20th century.  However, natural silk continues to be woven, both singularly and with synthetic fibers, in many of the small towns.  The local vineyards are famous for their fine wines.  The town of Montélimar is known for its smooth nougat.

The département of
Haute-Savoie was formed from the northern part of the historic duchy of Savoy.  Lac Léman, and the Swiss canton of Genève, form the northern border of Haute-Savoie.  To the east is the Swiss canton of Valais and to the southeast is Mont-Blanc and the Italian border.  The capital of Haute-Savoie is Annecy. 

As the Rhône River flows out of lake Léman it forms the département’s western border.  Mountain peaks and the Aiguille des Glaciers of the massif of Mont-Blanc, the highest peak in the Alpes [15771 feet], run along its southern boundary, separating it from the département of Savoie.  Below Mont-Blanc, the Arve River winds it way through Chamonix, then across the département, joining the Rhône at Geneva.  The téléferique, that leaves Chamonix and crosses Mont-Blanc’s summit, on its way to Italy and Courmayeur, provides the rider with the most majestic view of the Alpes possible [there is also a 7 mile tunnel, under Mont-Blanc, between the two towns.   

From Mont-Blanc, the French Alpes slope quickly to the north, towards Lac Léman, reaching an elevation of about 1000 feet at the quaint lake-shore towns of Évian-les-Bains and Thonon-les-Bains.  Annecy and its lake, to the south, are surrounded by the picturesque Pre-Alpes mountains that are covered with forests and pastures. 

Haute-Savoie’s agriculture consists of cereals, grape vines and fruit in the protected, lower parts.  The lower area’s dairy cooperatives are large producers of cheese and other milk products. 

The département is engaged in lumbering, cement making, cheese processing, engineering and watch making.  Electronic and precision instrument manufacturing take place in and around Annecy; there is also a famous bell foundry.  The area has a vigorous tourist industry, based upon skiing and sight seeing, that is centered about Chamonix, and the lesser winter sport centers of La Cluzas, Megève and Morzine, in the valleys of the Mont-Blanc massif.

The mountainous département of Isère was formed, in 1790, from the northern part of the old province of Dauphiné.  Isère is bordered by the départements of Ain and Haute-Savoie to the north, Savoie to the east, Hautes-Alpes to the south and Drôme, Ardèche and Rhône to the west.  Its capital is the mountain bound city of Grenoble, which is situated at the confluence of the Isère and Drac rivers, in south central Isère. 

To the south of the département are the peaks of the Massif de Loisans and the Massif du Pelyoux; their peaks reach some 12800 feet.  The forests and wastelands of Bas Dauphiné slope into the Rhône Valley.  The département has two navigable rivers, the Rhône and the Isère. 

To the northeast of Grenoble are small areas of fertile farmland.  The southern alpine region has broad, fertile valleys. The area’s mountains are forested as high as 6000 feet, thus facilitating a robust lumber industry.  The area’s hydroelectric production has fostered considerable industry around Grenoble, the Drac River valley and the mountain passes.  Isère’s alpine beauty draws tourists all year, thus enabling both winter and summer sports as the basis for a strong tourist industry.  The area is also famous for the Chartreuse liqueur that is distilled near Grenoble at the Grande Chartreuse monastery.   

The département embraces the historic 16th to 17th century chateau of Vizille.  Isère was the homeland to Hector Berlioz who composed, among other works, his Synphonie Fantastique.

The east-central France département of
is located in the eastern part of the Massif Central.  It was formed, in 1790, from the ancient Forez and parts of the old Beaujolais and Lyonnais provinces.  It is encircled by the départements of Saône-et-Loire to the north, Rhône and Isère to the east, the Auvergne départements of Ardèche and Haute-Loire to the south and Puy-de-Dome and Allier to the west.  Its capital, Saint-Étienne, is located between the Loire River and the Rhône River. 

The département is composed primarily of three plains that are surrounded by mountains and high plateaus.  The plains consist of the marshy Forez, the Roanne and the Saint-Étienne.  The Loire River flows through the Forez Plain, which is protected by mountain chains on both sides, practically the entire length of the département.  The Forez Mountains extend about two-thirds of the way.  Its tallest peak is Pierre-sur-Haute, which rises to the elevation of 5261 feet.  The Madeleine Mountains then continue northward.  The Lyonnais Mountains, which are to the northeast of Saint-Étienne, segue into the Beaujolais Range to the north. 

Pastoral farming is pursued on reclaimed land of the Forez Plain.  On the Lyonnais and Beaujolais plains cattle farming is practiced.  On the Roannais Plain one finds cattle raising and cereal cultivation. 

Loire is one of the most industrialized of French départements.  Saint-Étienne is the département’s manufacturing and trade center.  Located along a line, running about 30 miles from northeast of Saint-Étienne to southwest of the capital, are the industrial towns of Firminy, Le Chambon, and Saint-Chamond.  Another industrial center is Roanne, which is located in the north. 

At Saint-Priest-la-Prugne, southwest of Roanne, are uranium fields.  The département has such heavy industry as armament, hardware and bicycle manufacturing.  Coking plants, metalworks and steel mills abound in the area around Saint-Étienne.  The textile industry, centered about Lyon, is supplied by looms found throughout the Loire département. 

The département has an abundant number ancient villages, châteaux and medieval churches.

The département of Rhône was created in 1790 from the ancient area of Lyonnais. In 1967, small areas of Ain and Isère were added to it.  It is located in the northwest of the Rhône-Alpes region of southeastern France.  It is a mostly mountainous département, perched on the northeastern slopes of the Massif Central.  The département is encircled by the départements of Saône-et-Loire to the north, Ain and Isère to the east, Isère to the southeast and Loire to the south and to the west.  Lyon, France’s 3rd largest city, is the capital of both the Rhône département and the Rhône-Alpes region. 

The northern half of the département, west of the Rhône and Saône plains, is covered by the Beaujolais Mountains.  The southern half is covered by the Lyonnais Mountains.  The Rhône River, which flows east to west through the département of Ain, turns south at Lyon, forming the eastern boundry of the southern half of the département of Rhône.  The Saône River, which flows north to south, mixes with the Rhône at Lyon.  It forms the département’s eastern boundry for the northern half of the département. 

The lands of the Rhône and Saône plains are fertile.  They are used to grow cereals, sugar beets and the grapevines that produce Beaujolais wine.  Much of the département’s industry is centered in and near the populous city of Lyon, which for centuries, had been a world center for the production of silk cloth.  Today, its textile industry produces mostly synthetic fibers.  The area is also a center for the chemical, food-processing, metallurgical and motor vehicle industries.  However, the area’s largest employment is derived from the transportation industry.  Lyon serves as a juncture for rail, road and water routes.

The département of Savoie is situated in the extreme east of the region of Rhône-Alpes in southeastern France.  It was originally the southern portion of the duchy of Savoy that was returned to France in 1860.  Savoie is bordered by the département of Haute-Savoie to the north, Italy to the east, the département of Hautes-Alpes to the south and Isère and Ain on the west.  The land is dominated by the southwestern Alpes and the deep valleys of the Fier, Isère and Rhône rivers.  The Alpes Grées separate the southeast portion of Savoie from the Piedmont Region of Italy.   

The Pre-Alpes Bauges and La Grande Chartreuse ranges are located in the département’s west, on either side of the capital of Chambéry and Lac du Bourget.  Chambéry is also the seat of an archbishopric.  Savoie’s eastern two-thirds contains snow capped mountains that are among the highest peaks in Europe.  Contained between the Isère and Arc rivers is the Massif de la Vanoise and its 34 square miles of glaciers.  The Vanoise National Park’s Pointe de la Grande Casse rises to 12638 feet. 

Cattle are raised in Savoie’s high valleys.  Cereals, forage crops, fruit trees and grape vines are found in the lower ones.  Tourism is a big factor in the economy, and is centered around such winter resorts as Courchevel, Paralognan-la-Vanoise and Val d’Isère.  Warm water spas, such as Aix-les-Bains, are popular tourist destinations.  The area’s rivers are used to generate hydroelectric power for aluminum and specialty steel plants.  There are also paper plants, cement plants and electro-mechanical works.



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