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.