24 Hours in Orléans
So if you have me on social media you're probably sick of hearing about my little day trip to Orléans, but I'm not quite finished yet! It really was so lovely, overflowing with history and beautiful architecture. You can walk nearly everywhere in Orléans, although there is a tram that runs through, but I never found a need to take it!
Train Station at Orléans
I started off walking down from the train station to the centre of town, there are plenty of shops and a huge shopping centre next to the train station which line your route down to Place du Martroi. Here, you will find a Statue of Jeanne d'Arc on horseback, built under the command of Napoleon III and which replaced an earlier statue of her by Gois. It was then bombed during the World War Two and was restored in 1950 with the help of American aid money. The entire square is beautiful, there are jumping fountains and a carousel to delight the children and countless cafés to sit at and take in your surroundings! I had lunch at Studio 16 which was gorgeous, and very reasonably priced, I had steak and a glass of wine for €20! Try to avoid going 12.30-1.30 if you're in a rush, as it is extremely busy, especially when the weather is nice, and so service can be slow.
Place du Martroi - Statue of Jeanne d'Arc
I turned out of Place du Martroi onto Rue Jeanne d'Arc, which offers such a lovely view of the Cathedral peeking out between buildings, and walked on down to the Cathedral, I went at about 10am and it was deserted, so it was so peaceful. The Cathedral was originally built in the 12th Century, although most of it collapsed in the 13th Century and had to be rebuilt, and then it was again further destroyed in the 16th Century during the Wars of Religion. The rebuilding was finished at the end of the 17th Century, mostly done in gothic style, and this is the Cathedral we see today. It's rebuilding was finished exactly 400 years after Jeanne d'Arc freed Orléans from the English siege. The bell tower was also damaged by bombing during the World War Two, but was restored in 2012 on the 600 anniversary of Jeanne d'Arc in Orléans.
The Cathedral from Rue Jeanne d'Arc
The old town of Orléans surrounds the Cathedral, if you walk out of the Cathedral and turn left, you are suddenly surrounded by old Mediaeval buildings and timbers. There are lovely little boutiques and cafés in the old area to explore, alongside little churches and if you walk straight through the old town, down the hill you reach the Loire river. I could spend an entire afternoon wandering down the tiny side streets, admiring the old buildings and street graffiti and just soaking it all up (with the adorable dog I befriended!) There are also points around the town with QR codes to scan and you can listen to the history of Orléans.
The 'old town'
After deciding that, much as I wanted to, I couldn't spend all day in the old town if I wanted to see everything else I headed back in the direction of Place du Martroi, and found the house of Jeanne d'Arc. This was reconstructed in the 60s (it was destroyed during World War Two) and is where Jeanne d'Arc stayed with Jacques Boucher in 1429. It is a museum dedicated to the story of Jeanne d'Arc with interactive screens and a film depicting her life and her importance to the town of Orléans (they celebrate her in a festival 29th April-8th May each year). It also houses 37,000 documents and research papers on Jeanne d'Arc. It costs €6 to enter (reduced ticket €3) and also grants access to other museums in Orléans including the Beaux Arts museum.
Maison Jeanne d'Arc
I planned to head over to Hotel Groslot next, however they close between 12h-14h for lunch (most places in Orléans do), so as I was already near Place du Martroi I went and enjoyed lunch in the square, soaking up the sunshine until I could continue my sightseeing. You can find Hotel Groslot next to the Cathedral (so it might make sense to do them together!) and it is free to enter, although a brochure with the building's history is well worth buying at the front desk for €1! There are six rooms to explore and whilst small, it is definitely worth a visit! It was originally the home of Jacques Groslot, the bailiff of Orléans. The 1560 Estates General were held there, and it was also there were Francois II subsequently died. After the Revolution, it became the town hall, and has had subsequent uses since, most recently as a wedding venue! There is a room dedicated to Jeanne d'Arc, and you can also find the first flag that was flown in Orléans after the Occupation and the wedding chest of Francois II and Mary Queen of Scots!
Hotel Groslot - Francois II bedchamber where he died
The last place on my list of places to visit, ( although there are many more, including the Beaux Arts Museum, the Natural history museum and many places further afield such as the Chateau de Chambord) was a museum and research centre dedicated to the children of the Val d'Hiver roundup. It costs €4 or €2 for a reduced ticket. For those that may not know, Val d'Hiver was when the Vichy government in collaboration with the Nazi's rounded up and arrested more than 13,000 Jews (mostly women and children) and held them in the Vélodrome d'Hiver in the most appalling conditions, before being deported to Drancy, Pithviers, Compiègne and Beaune-la-Rolande transit camps, from which they were transported to Auschwitz. The French government only officially recognised their culpability in 1995 when Jacques Chirac gave a speech on the Nation's"collective wrongdoing". This museum provides an understanding of Val d'Hiver and the experiences of children, through eye witness testimonies, letters, photographs and official documents, there is also part of 'baraque' number 4 from Beaune-la-Rolande camp.
It is a place to learn, reflect and to never forget the atrocities that were endured.
(Note: All the information and documents in this museum are in French)
One of the many signs you will find on buildings around France, acknowledging the Vichy Governments part in the crimes conducted against Jewish people during the Occupation.
With Orléans only being 1h20 outside of Paris by train, and relatively small, it is an ideal place for a day trip from Paris, brimming with history it is impossible to leave Orléans without discovering something new! It is also just a truly beautiful place.