Situated on a sweeping bend of the river, Orleans France is the most northerly of the Loire Valley’s historic towns. Despite serious damage in World War II and recent (successful) effort to attract new industries to the town, with associated modern development, this is still a quiet but handsome city with an attractive old centre.
It was here that Joan of Arc made her name by lifting a long siege just nine days after arriving in 1429, earning her nickname ‘The Maid of Orleans’. This was the moment that marked the beginning of the end of the 111-year Hundred Year’ War, with the English finally being expelled from France in 1453.
Though she wasn’t around to savour the English rout, Joan is Still everywhere in Orleans France. The grand 19th-century boulevard Rue Jeanne d’Arc runs to the Cathedral-Saint-Croix, where there is a monumental altar carved with scenes from her life, with stained glass windows expanding the story. The Maison de Jeanne d’Arc on Place General de Gaulle (Heroine meets hero) tells you all you need to know about the Saint. Her equestrian statue is in the large central square, Place du Martroi, and another may be found in Place d’Etape, this time pocked with World War II bullet holes.
Orleans France is well worth exploring in its own right, with the banks of the untamed Loire a particular delight. Near the Cathedral, the rd-brick Renaissance Hotel Groslot (the old Town Hall) is worth visiting. The Place de la Republique has a wonderful 15th-century bell tower. The old industrial area’s attractive narrow streets slope down to the river, with two important early churches there – St Aignan and St-Pierre-le-Puellier. Her also is the White Tower, once part of the city walls.
The first week in May, when the city honours (you guessed it) St Joan with parades, a medieval market and fireworks.
Despite reservetions because it contains a nuclear power station, the Loire Valley is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.