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In the airlock │© ESA/NASA
In the airlock │© ESA/NASA
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20 Spectacular French Postcards from Space

Picture of Paul McQueen
Updated: 16 June 2017
Travel 250 miles southeast out of Paris and you’ll end up on a suburban street in Lyon. Head straight up into the sky, as French astronaut Thomas Pesquet did in November 2016, and, instead, you’ll reach the International Space Station, which orbits above us at a walloping 17,150mph. As part of his six-month mission, the 38-year-old aerospace engineer and Air France pilot has been taking these stunning pictures of home.
New Caledonia │© ESA/NASA
New Caledonia │ | © ESA/NASA

Located about 1,000 miles off the eastern coast of Australia, New Caledonia is one of France’s 13 Dom-Tom (overseas departments and territories). It’ll take you about a day and a half to get there from Paris but its biodiverse forests and tropical beaches are worth the journey.

Cities at Night │© ESA/NASA
Cities at Night │ | © ESA/NASA

France’s second and third largest cities, Marseille and Lyon, can be easily made out on one side of the Alps and the northern Italian cities of Turin and Milan on the other. When he took this shot, Pesquet wrote that ‘when the moon is up, its light reflects on the snow, and combines with city lights for the most beautiful night scenes I’ve seen so far.’

Alps in a glance │© ESA/NASA
Alps in a glance │ | © ESA/NASA

The great sweep of the Alps once again, petering out in the west as they near Monaco and Sanremo. To the east of the beige patch, you can just about make out the waters of Lake Garda.

Mont Blanc │© ESA/NASA
Mont Blanc │ | © ESA/NASA

This amazing close-up shows the highest mountain in France and Europe, Mont Blanc. Being everything you’d expect an astronaut to be, Pesquet has obviously already climbed it. He is also a black belt in judo and enjoys basketball, jogging, swimming, squash, mountain biking, kite-surfing, sailing, and skiing. He also has extensive experience in scuba diving and skydiving. When he’s not in space or engaged in one of these other, less demanding physical activities, he loves to travel, play the saxophone, and read!

South of Gap │© ESA/NASA
South of Gap │ | © ESA/NASA

This last shot of the Alps was taken just south of Gap, the prefecture (departmental capital) of Haute-Alpes and the highest one in France.

Geneva │© ESA/NASA
Geneva │ | © ESA/NASA

The Swiss have always been proud of Lake Geneva’s fountain but now they can rest assured it can be seen from space. Just. It’s the tiny white line near the tip of the lake. Geography fans (and sticklers for detail) might also like to know that the border with France runs right along the western edge of the airport.

Jura Mountains │© ESA/NASA
Jura Mountains │ | © ESA/NASA

The Jura Mountains run roughly along the border between France and Switzerland. Less dramatic than the Alps, they are nonetheless loved by hikers and famous for the yellow wine produced in their foothills.

Marseille │© ESA/NASA
Marseille │ | © ESA/NASA

Marseille’s old and new ports look fantastic in this picture as does the stadium of its beloved football team, Olympique de Marseille. Paris Saint-Germain fans won’t be happy that they’ve been upstaged by their southern rivals…

France at night │© ESA/NASA
France at night │ | © ESA/NASA

This night shot shows the southern half of France as seen from the west. To the right, you can see the northeastern part of Spain and, in the distance, Italy. You can also make out the halo of the atmosphere.

United Kingdom │© ESA/NASA
United Kingdom │ | © ESA/NASA

From its southern neighbors to its friend in the north: the United Kingdom. Here, you can appreciate just how narrow the Channel becomes and how densely populated much of Britain is.

Paris │© ESA/NASA
Paris │ | © ESA/NASA

This is the one we’ve all been waiting for: Paris. The view is from east to west, which you can deduce from the dark splotches of the Bois de Vincennes and the Bois de Boulogne and the very bright spots of Orly and Charles de Gaulle. You can also clearly see the streetlights on the surrounding Boulevard Périphérique.

Seine-Maritime │© ESA/NASA
Seine-Maritime │ | © ESA/NASA

This picture shows Pesquet’s native Seine-Maritime. He was born in Rouen on February 27th, 1978, and this year will celebrate his birthday in space.

Dieppe │© ESA/NASA
Dieppe │ | © ESA/NASA

This is a close-up of his home department and the town of Dieppe, where the Arques river flows into the Channel. The waters here are particularly famous for the scallops they produce.

Mont St. Michel │© ESA/NASA
Mont St. Michel │ | © ESA/NASA

This spectacular shot shows low tide at Mont Saint-Michel. The sun is also at just the right angle to cast the castle’s shadow over the sands. One of the world’s most beautiful sights that can be seen on land, it sure doesn’t disappoint from space!

Bretagne │© ESA/NASA
Bretagne │ | © ESA/NASA

France’s northern and western coastlines are perfectly traced out here by the lights of seaside towns. But they are nothing in comparison to the bright lights of Paris.

Bordeaux │© ESA/NASA
Bordeaux │ | © ESA/NASA

This is a great bird’s-eye view of the city of Bordeaux and the silty waters of the Garonne as it nears the Bay of Biscay.

Estuaire de la Gironde │© ESA/NASA
Estuaire de la Gironde │ | © ESA/NASA

Known as the ‘Mouth of France’, the estuary of the Gironde in Nouvelle-Aquitaine is where the Garonne empties its waters. You can also make out the beautiful, sandy beaches of the country’s west coast.

Pyrenees │© ESA/NASA
Pyrenees │ | © ESA/NASA

Pesquet’s last shot of Metropolitan France features the Pyrenees capped with snow. Presumably, the mountains’ grizzly inhabitants are deep in their winter hibernation.

Martinique │© ESA/NASA
Martinique │ | © ESA/NASA

It looks like a rather cloudy day on Martinique, by Caribbean standards, anyway. It’s a place of outstanding natural beauty and one Pesquet has said he’ll make a point of visiting when he gets back to Earth.

Guadeloupe │© ESA/NASA
Guadeloupe │ | © ESA/NASA

Our last stop on this outer space tour of France is Guadeloupe. The distinctive outline of its two islands is said to be like the wings of a butterfly. Can an island paradise get any more perfect?