Orléans in central France is a perfect central starting point for trips around the Loire Valley, with its famous châteaux, gardens, and historic attractions. The Loire Valley is one of the most visited parts of France, particularly easy to reach from Paris. Orléans is also a city worth staying in, with an attractive old quarter centering around 18th- and 19th-century streets with arcaded galleries that evoke a gracious and prosperous history.
Orléans is 119 km (74 miles) south-west of Paris and 72 km (45 miles) southeast of Chartres.
- Orléans stands in the Loire Valley on a great bend of the Loire River, lying between the rich arable cornfields of the gentle Beauce to the north and the dense forests of the Sologne to the south.
- In the past, the Loire was a major highway, and Orleans was the natural stop to continue the coach ride to Paris.
- The population of central Orléans is around 113,000; greater Orléans is around 264,000
- The Tourist Office is located at 2 place de L’Etape
The history of Orléans is inextricably mixed with Joan of Arc who during the Hundred Years War between the English and the French (1339-1453), inspired the French army to victory after a week-long siege. You can see the celebration of Joan and her liberation of the city all over the town, particularly in the stained glass in the cathedral.
- Real devotees should visit the Maison de Jeanne-d'Arc (3 pl du General-de-Gaulle). This half-timbered building is a reconstruction of the house of the Treasurer of Orléans, Jacques Boucher, where Joan stayed in 1429. An audiovisual exhibit tells the story of the lifting of the siege by Joan on May 8th, 1429.
- Cathedrale Ste-Croix (Place Ste-Croix) - For a superb view, approach the city from the other side of the Loire and you see the cathedral standing out on the skyline. The place where Joan celebrated her victory, the cathedral has a chequered history and you see a building that has been massively altered during the centuries. While the cathedral may not have the impact of Chartres, its stained glass is interesting, particularly the windows telling the story of the Maid of Orleans. Also look out for the 17th-century organ and the 18th-century woodwork.
- Musee des Beaux-Arts (Place Ste-Croix) - Good collection of French artists from the Le Nain to Picasso. Also has paintings from the 15th to the 20th century including Tintoretto, Correggio, Van Dyck, and a large collection of French pastels.
- Hotel Groslot (Place de l’Etape) - A huge Renaissance house begun in 1550, the Hotel was the home of Francois II who married Mary, Queen of Scots. The mansion was also used as a residence by the French Kings Charles IX, Henri III, and Henri IV. You can see the interior and the garden.
- Le Parc Floral de la Source - Large public park around the source of the Loiret with plenty to do including free croquet and badminton among the different gardens. The small, 212 km long Loiret, like many rivers in the area, runs into the Loire as it makes its way towards the Atlantic coast. Don't miss the dahlia and iris gardens that fill the place with color. And as vegetable gardens go, the one here is delightful.
Where to Stay
- Hotel de l’Abeille (64 rue Alsace-Lorraine) - Charming hotel in a city not overburdened with good hotels, the Hotel de l’Abeille is still owned by the family who started it in 1903. Comfortable, old-fashioned décor with antique furniture and old prints and paintings and with a roof terrace for summer days. Good for Joan of Arc fans; there are plenty of artifacts on the lady decorating the rooms.
- Hotel des Cedres (17 rue du Marechal-Foch) - In the center, but quiet and peaceful with a glassed-in conservatory for breakfast looking onto the garden. Rooms are comfortable and decent sized.
- Hotel Marguerite (14 pl du Vieux Marche) - In central Orléans, this is a reliable hotel continuously being updated. No particular frills, but comfortable and friendly with good sized family rooms.
Where to Eat
- Le Lievre Gourmand (28 quai du Chatelet) - 19th-century house with a predominantly white décor is the setting for some serious cooking in dishes such as truffle risotto, top beef with polenta, and enticing desserts.
- La Veille Auberge (2 rue du Faubourg St-Vincent) - Traditional cooking using local ingredients in this pretty restaurant. There’s a garden for summer dining or eat in the antique-filled dining room.
The Loire Valley produces some of France's best wines, with over 20 different appellations. So take advantage when you are in Orleans of sampling the wines in the restaurants, but also taking side trips to the vineyards. To the east, you can discover Sancerre with its white wines produced from the Sauvignon grape. To the west, the area around Nantes produces Muscadet.
The Loire Valley is known for its game, hunted in the nearby forest of the Sologne. As Orleans is on the banks of the Loire, fish is also a good bet, while mushrooms come from the caves near Saumur.
What to See Outside Orléans
From Orléans, you can visit Sully-sur-Loire chateau and the Chateau and Park of Chateauneuf-sur-Loire to the east and at Meung-sur-Loire to the west, the Jardins du Roquelin.
Loire à Velo
For those with energy, you can hire a bicycle and make your way along some of the 800 km (500 miles) cycle route that takes you from Cuffy in the Cher to the Atlantic coast. Part of the route passes through the Loire Valley, and there are various separate cycle routes taking you past the different chateaux which you can visit. It's all extremely well organized, with hotels and guest houses specially geared up to deal with cyclists.