Orléans in the Loire Valley is a city rich with history and famous for its links to Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orléans.
The regional capital of Centre, Orléans was first founded by the Gauls and was a prosperous stronghold that managed to pushed back the invasion of Attila and his Huns. But its most famous act of war came with the Battle of Orléans during the Hundred Years War where the peasant girl with orders from God, Joan of Arc, led the French to a victory against the English.
Although its ramparts were dismantled during the Wars of Religion and it suffered greatly, Orléans was booming again by the 18th century with strong trade links on the river by trading and processing sugar from the colonies and manufacturing vinegars and fabrics.
Some parts of the city were damaged during WW2 but much of the wonderful historic centre remains including the beautiful Gothic Cathédrale St Croix, which has had a long and tumultuous past since the original cathedral was built here in the 7th century. Having collapsed, suffered much damage and been rebuilt and renovated several times, the cathedral still stands proudly in the heart of the city.
Many religious buildings are worth a visit including the crypt of St Aignan that takes the form of an underground church with 5 radiating chapels from the main ambulatory, the ruins of the convent of the Minimes dating from the 17th century and the Collégiale St Pierre le Puellier, the oldest church in Orléans which is now deconsecrated and holds cultural exhibitions.
Also worth a visit is the Hôtel Groslot, a wonderful Renaissance building with a Troubadour Gothic interior. Don't miss a view of the statue of Joan of Arc on horseback in the Place du Martoi, which was inaugurated in 1855. The square itself was used for executions in the past as well as a wheat market.
Find out more about Joan of Arc in the Maison Jeanne d'Arc, a faithful reconstruction of the house in which she stayed in Orléans that was destroyed during WW2. Her life and the freeing of Orléans are traced through dioramas and multimedia exhibits.
There is also a Natural Science Museum, a City Historical and Archaeological Museum and a Musée des Beaux-Arts that contains one of the richest public collections in France with French, Flemish, Dutch and Italian paintings and a room devoted to pastels.
If you'd like somewhere quiet to relax after absorbing all the culture, Orléans has many pretty parks and gardens including the Parc Floral de la Source, which is home to the mysterious source of the River Loiret and a butterfly garden.
Just 10 minutes outside of the city, you'll discover the Ile de Charlemagne, a 70 hectare leisure complex and park with 33 hectares of lake that is perfect for all kinds of land and water-based sports such as volleyball, baseball, sailing and canoeing and also has a pony club. With over 300 hiking routes for all abilties and the Loire à velo trail for cyclists in the countryside around Orléans, why not get out and about for some fresh air?
As you'd expect in such a large city, Orléans has some fantastic shopping opportunities, particularly for antiques and arts lovers, and several markets in squares across the city. Don't miss a taste of the Macarons aux Fruits, an Orléans speciality of fruit macaroons (biscuits) available in 4 flavours and Le Cotignac, a delicately coloured quince jelly presented in a round spruce box that was often given as a gift from the city to visiting royalty. Or, why not try some of Orléans famous vinegars, mustard and its excellent and fruity wines?
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