Orléans in the Loire Valley has always held a special place in my heart. As a 16-year old I did a school exchange with a family who lived in the centre. They were kindness itself. I went back very often, and I am still in touch with them.
I hope you will enjoy Orléans as much as I do.
It’s perfectly located where the mighty river Loire starts to turn southwest in its journey to the sea. An important city from Roman times on, Orléans in the Loire Valley was always a vital transport hub, the place where those who were travelling from the south, west and eat using the Loire as a highway, left the river and continued to Paris by coach.
It’s just 119 kms/74 miles from the capital. In the 18th century, Orléans’ position in the Loire valley inevitably helped the city to becoming the leading port supplying Paris. Goods came up the river and were transported on north to satisfy the voracious city of Paris.
The medieval university was a centre of learning, attended by the likes of Erasmus, Rabelais and Calvin.
Where to Start
Walk through the Past
The old town beckons, an area bordering the river Loire where the pedestrianized streets are lined with stone and half-timbered Renaissance houses, reminders of the wealth of this town. In the main square, Place du Martroi, the bronze statue of Joan of Arc stands tall, very tall.
During the Hundred Years War (1339-1453) she led the French troops who forced the English to quit the Siege of Orléans on May 8, 1429. There are plenty of reminders of the Maid of Orléans.
For this you’ll need a guide (information and booking at the tourist office). Underneath the streets another Orléans exists. You climb down the steps into a subterranean world from a trapdoor in the Place du Martroi to the Porte Bannier. It’s a city gate built in the Middle Ages in the second wall that protected Orléans. You can also see it in the nearby car park, but it’s infinitely more romantic to walk the underground passage where you also see a 14th century stone foot bridge and moat.
Must-See Attractions in Orléans
It was here that Joan celebrated beating the English though this is a different cathedral from the one she would have entered in the 15th century. In 1601 Henri IV celebrated the beginning of the cathedral building, which was completed in 1829. The Gothic façade is lovely. Inside 10 stained glass windows depict Joan of Arc. If you can make it, climb the 252 steps to the top of the cathedral for a panoramic view of the city (€7.50 with a tour of the Romanesque crypt of St Avit).
A Renaissance Masterpiece
Jacques Groslot was an important figure; he was the bailiff of Orléans from 1521 to 1545. So he naturally needed a mansion to reflect his status. He succeeded; behind the red-brick façade, this is a magnificent dwelling.
Even the likes of Charles IX, Henry IV, Mary, Queen of Scots (wife of François II), and Catherine de’ Medici must have been impressed by the gilded, sumptuously furnished rooms with their gilded paneling, Aubusson tapestries, moulded ceilings and furniture covered with gold leather.
Musée des Beaux-Arts
The Musée des Beaux-Arts has a superb collection of 18th century art, including an important series of pastel portraits. There’s more in the form of Flemish and Italian 16th and 17th century masterpieces, 20th century works by the likes of Picasso and Gauguin, and sculptures by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891-1915) who was born near Orléans.
Hôtel Cabu is another Renaissance building that now houses a historic and archeological museum. It covers the story of Orléans, but the main exhibit is the Trésor de Neuvy-sur-Sullias. It’s an extraordinary collection of Celtic religious bronze animals and figures, buried in the second half of the third century AD.
Maison Jeanne d’Arc
The house where Joan of Arc stayed in May 1429 gives you a multi-media presentation of what living in the house would have been like in her day.
The Loire River banks
Part of the renovation of the city, this is now an attractive area, full of bars and restaurants. Walk down the Rue de Bourgogne, the Gallo-Roman high street to the river bank.
Where to Stay in Orléans
The 3-star Hôtel de l’Abeille is a popular choice. Traditional décor of luxurious wallpaper, chandeliers in good-sized rooms, plus good bathrooms. Add a terrace and central position just off the main shopping street to see why this a favorite with many.
Hôtel de l’Abeille
64 rue Alsace Lorraine
Tel: +33 (0)2 38 53 54 87
The 4-star Empreinte Hotel in central Orléans is chic and fun. It stands on the banks of the river, so book a room with a view. There’s a spa, bar; they do brunch and take breakfast on the terrace.
80 Quai du Châtelet.
Tel: +33 (0)2 38 75 10 52
There are plenty of budget accommodation chains in Orléans. Check them out here.
Where to Eat in Orléans
Most of the restaurants are in the Rue de Bourgogne, so wander down and take your pick. Here are some recommendations.
Chez Jules. This cosy restaurant concentrates on regional specialties that changes with the seasons. The place is family run, with brick interiors and intimate atmosphere.
136 Rue de Bourgogne, Tel: +33 (0)2 38 54 30 80 (no website)
Le Lift. Take the glass-fronted life to the top of the huge Pathé cinema beside the Loire for a thoroughly modern experience. Philippe Bardau serves up local and regional foods in a funky atmosphere.
5 Rue Poterne. Tel: +33 (0)2 38 53 63 48
Eugene is tucked away near Place du Martroi and is known to the locals for its excellent regional cooking. This pretty little place offers the likes of guinea fowl with spices and plenty of fish dishes. Chef Alain Gérard comes from Brittany and it shows.
24, Rue Sainte Anne. Tel: +33 (0) 2 38 53 82 64
How to get to Orléans
Paris to Orléans by Train
Direct Intercity trains run from Paris to Orléans, leaving from Gare d’Austerlitz, 55 quai d’Austerlitz, Paris 13. There are frequent trains taking from 1hr 10 mins.
Paris to Orléans by Car
If you’re coming from the UK, check out Getting to France from the UK by ferry.
Calais to Orléans is 416 kms/258 miles and takes around 4 hrs 10 mins, going through Paris.
If you’re coming from Paris it’s 133 km/82 miles to Orléans, and the journey takes around 1 hr 40 mins depending on your speed. There are tolls on the Autoroutes.
Outside Central Orléans in the Loire Valley
The Parc Floral de la Source du Loiret
The Loiret river starts within this 30-hectare Parc Floral, surrounded by an iris, rose, rock, vegetable, dahlia garden and many more. It’s a delightful place for families, particularly in the summer with an animal park, butterfly house and childrens adventure playground.
Loire à Vélo
Orléans is at the heart of the Loire Valley Cycle Route. The famous Loire à Vélo cycle route is 900 kms/560miles long. It runs from Cuffy in the Cher along the Loire, through Orléans to the Atlantic coast just outside Nantes.
Orléans is perfectly placed for visits to the châteaux that run beside the river. Many of them can be reached by public transport. Check the routes and how to travel to them at the tourist office.