Orléans is the northernmost city on the Loire, sitting at the apex of a huge arc in the river as it switches direction and starts to flow southwest. Its proximity to Paris, just over 100km away, has always shaped this ancient city. Nowadays Orléans’ glory days are over, but high-speed train and motorway links to the capital and a rash of cosmetics factories in the suburbs have still brought a certain measure of prosperity. It’s an attractive place; the ancient riverside quays have been redeveloped, and ultramodern trams provide a perfect foil to the handsome eighteenth- and nineteenth-century streets of the old centre.
Upstream from Orléans, the rambling Forêt d’Orléans spreads north. Along the river are plenty of lesser-known attractions, most notably the abbey at St-Benoît, the château at Sully-sur-Loire, the small town of Gien, the aqueduct at Briare and the hilltop town of Sancerre, where the famous dry white wines are produced.Read More
- The vineyards of Sancerre
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc
Orléans is most famous for its heroine, Joan of Arc, and her deliverance of the city in May 1429. This was the turning point in the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453), when Paris had been captured by the English and Orléans, as the key city in central France, was under siege. The legend says that Joan, a 17-year-old peasant girl in men’s clothing, had talked her way into meeting Charles, the heir to the French throne, and persuaded him to reconquer his kingdom. The reality may be a little different as it seems that Joan was in fact born of nobility. The myth may have coloured her actual achievements, but she was undeniably an important symbolic figure. Less than three years later she was captured in battle, tried as a heretic, and burnt at the stake. Today, the Maid of Orléans is an omnipresent feature, whether in museums, hotels or in the stained glass of the vast Neo-Gothic cathedral. One of the best times to visit is on May 8 (Joan of Arc Day) or the evening before, when the city is filled with parades, fireworks and a medieval fair.