Long one of the great cities of France
www.tourisme-orleans.com. One of the great cities of medieval France, but badly bombed in the Second World War, Orléans rather rests on its laurels. It has become a sort of Joan of Arc urban theme park littered with shops, streets and dozens of statues commemorating the ‘Maid of Orleans’ who liberated the city from the English in 1429.
An equestrian statue of Joan commands the huge main square, place du Martroi, and the Maison Jeanne d’Arc, 3 place du Général-de-Gaulle (www.jeannedarc.com), lies a short walk away. The Maid stayed here after her victory, and there are models, costumes and audio-visual displays detailing the siege of the city. Rue Jeanne d’Arc runs straight as an arrow into the Cathédrale de Sainte-Croix, crowned by twin coronets of lacy stonework. Stained glass windows recall the legend of the Maid with the English cast not only as villains but warty monsters to boot, and Charles VII looks indescribably daft in red slippers.
Beside the cathedral, the Musée des Beaux-Arts (information at www.orleans.fr) offers 17th-19thC portraits and an impressive modern collection (Monet, Duty, Picasso, Miró). Across the street, the Hôtel de Ville is housed in the handsome 16thC brick and stone Hôtel Groslot, which opens its beautifully-furnished public rooms.
A favourite corner of Orléans is the Musée Archéologique et Historique, in the Hôtel Cabu, off rue Charles-Sanglier (information at www.orleans.fr) Its rare Gallo-Roman bronzes – a prancing horse, ruff-backed boar, tiny dancers and ball players – are a delight; there are old stone shop signs, furniture and an enormous collection of 18th-19thC engravings attached to religious, political and downright scandalous broad-sheets, once a thriving local industry.
Orléans celebrates the ubiquitous Joan with a rumbustious festival on May 7-8. There is a jazz festival currently taking place in April (www.nojazzfest.com). For cheap eats, check out the cafés and ethnic restaurants on rue de Bourgogne; picnic ingredients can be gathered in the covered market on place du Châtelet.
There are several diversions on the banks of the Loire above Orléans. First up is the little church at Germigny-des-Pres 29 km east, off the D60. Dating from the time of Charlemagne (9thC, except 11thC nave) it contains a wonderful 9thC Byzantine mosaic in the east apse which was uncovered in 1840. Glowing with colour, the glass mosaic depicts the Ark of the Convenant.
A little further on is the Romanesque abbey church at Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire (35 km south-east, via D60) with a covered porch laid out in three aisles of arches carved with capitals. The Château de Sully, at Sully-sur-Loire (40 km south-east, on the D951) dips its feet into the river beneath) a imposing array of machiolations, arrow slits and pointed towers. Tours include the portrait-lined Salle des Tableaux and magnificent Grand Salon.