After spending a few months basking in the tranquility of south-west France, I’d been craving a cultural rendezvous in a vibrant city; one last French indulgence before heading back home. We could’ve chosen Paris, about 90 minutes further north, but I wasn’t ready for the full hustle and bustle just yet. Orléans is more compact, easier to explore on foot and still offers plenty of grandeur and urban appeal. Despite its turbulent history (from being seized by the English during the Hundred Years’ War, to the devastation of World War II), Orléans enjoyed periods of great prosperity due in large part to its strategic location on the northern banks of the Loire.
Wealthy merchants and royals settled there after the Religious Wars of the 16th century, building stately mansions that can still be admired today. In recent years, many monumental buildings and facades have been restored to their original splendour, making Orléans a visual gem with plenty of historic cachet. It’s no wonder the city was named a Ville d’Art et d’Histoire in 2009.
Room with a view
We stayed at the charming Hotel de l’Abeille, ideal for those arriving by train as it’s only a short walk from the station, but also a great option after a long car trip. From our handsomely decorated room decked out in antique furniture and pale blue Toile de Jouy wallpaper, I swung open the windows and took in the view over Rue de la République, a popular shopping avenue and the perfect place to enjoy a much-needed stretch of the legs. Sumptuous Art Nouveau buildings erected between 1897 and 1905 line the lively street leading directly to the city’s main square, Place du Martroi, where Joan of Arc triumphantly greeted us. The monumental equestrian statue of the national heroine who was divinely guided to help defeat the English during one of the most important battles of the Hundred Years’ War, dates to 1855 and is the work of Denis Foyatier.
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