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From its source in Lake Geneva, the Rhone heads westward before joining the Saone in Lyon and making a sharp turn south toward the Mediterranean. That southern outlet Rhone/Saone river system is what makes France the only Northern European power also a Southern European power. Not content to let nature make France powerful, in the first half of the 19th century the French built a canal to link the Rhone to the Rhine — northern Europe’s longest commercial artery.

The Rhone/Saone is a significant French economic center, second only to Paris. The region’s significant wine industry, textiles, and research centers such as Grenoble are key parts of the modern French economy.