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Ten reasons why you should visit the French city Orléans

Just south the French capital, on the banks of the River Loire, there's a quiet and charming city that's well worth a visit. Gwendoline Gaudicheau, born and raised in Orléans, explains why.

Ten reasons why you should visit the French city Orléans
Photo: AFP

Three years ago, I left Orléans for Paris after spending the first 20 years of my life there. 

When I go back to visit, it feels like the perfect place to forget about the busy life in the capital, reconnect with myself and nature – and that without even being in the countryside.

Orléans is the capital of the Loiret department in the Centre-Val-de-Loire region, just a couple of hours by car south of Paris.

As an Orléanais (the French term for the inhabitants of Orléans) I am naturally fond of my city, but tourists love it too.

To give you a few tips for visiting the city, I asked Orléanais what, in their eyes, makes the city so special.

Mathilde Edey Gamassou incarnating Joan of Arc during the 2018 Johannique celebrations. Photo: AFP

1. It’s the city of Joan of Arc

Orléans is undeniably dominated by the legacy of Joan of Arc.

Known as “the Maid of Orléans”, Joan of Arc liberated the city from Britain in a legendary and heroic deed that almost 600 years later is still commemorated and celebrated.

If you take a trip to Orléans, you will see her silhouette on the medallions that are dotted along the city streets, on sculptures or even on the boxes of Cotignac, one of the city’s culinary specialities (more on this below).

Each year, the city celebrates its hero during the Fêtes de Jeanne d’Arc (Jean of Arc celebrations), a festival that lasts an entire week (April 29th until May 8th) and includes a medieval fair and many parades.

Every year, girls compete to get play the role of Joan of Arc, a selective process that begins in January.

The final parade on May 8th, the day of the city was liberated, welcomes a “special” guest, generally a political figure (President Emmanuel Macron featured in 2016 before he made official his candidacy to the 2017 presidential elections). 

Be aware that Orléanais will tell you that they live in the city of Joan of Arc, but so will Rouennais (inhabitants of Rouen), because she was burnt there.

READ ALSO: France's first mixed-race Joan of Arc hit by torrent of racist abuse 

Former French Culture Minister Franck Riester looking at paintings inside the museum of Orléans. Photo: AFP 

2. The Beaux-Arts museum

But what is known as the Johannique celebrations are not the only thing to do in the city, which is known, amongst other things, for its many museums (although Joan of Arc features here too).

If you are a Joan of Arc fan, Marine, 23, suggests you visit the Maison de Jeanne d’Arc (House of Joan of Arc), which she said is “a unique place”. Inside, you will find the “leading documentary collection” on Joan of Arc as stated by the city’s tourism office.

If you are more of the arty type, the Musée des beaux-arts d’Orléans is a must-see, especially as it is located right next to the city's famous Cathedral.

The museum is one of France’s oldest provincial museums and also history student Laura’s favorite.

“What I enjoy the most are the outdoor exhibitions that give us a taste of what we’ll find inside,” she said.

3. The Old Town

The old town is a personal favourite of mine that I recommend to everyone visiting the city for the first time. 

It’s also one of the easiest activity to do in Orléans. No need to organise anything or to buy a ticket, just go for a stroll along these streets and alleyways filled with history and admire the Renaissance-style houses along the way.

If you find it too quiet, try the rue de Bourgogne, one of the city’s longest and liveliest streets with plenty of restaurants, cafes, bars and tourists.

The old town spans from the cathedral to the banks of the Loire, both on the list of places I recommend you visit, so you can walk through it on your way from the one to the other.

The Loire river banks in the winter. Photo: AFP

4. The Loire river banks

The Loire banks are a must-see and many of the city's activities are organised around the river, including the Festival de Loire, a five-day event recalling the history of river transport in Orléans.
 
The festival used to only happen every five years, but it became so popular that it's now held every two years. 
 
You can also experience the river by bicycle. La Loire à vélo (The Loire by bicycle) is an 800km long (yes, 800km!) cycle route.

Since I haven't yet plucked up the courage to experience this myself, France Vélo Tourisme can better explain why it's a “unique” experience:

“You stay closely to France’s last great wild river, with its sandy banks and islands, its vine-covered slopes, its typical towns and villages, its fine food and its unique atmosphere,” they write on their website.

If you don’t feel like biking for 800km, don't worry, you can take a shorter route along the river without leaving the city. Or you can simply go for a walk along the banks and enjoy the nature and sights.

Orléans' Sainte-Croix Cathedral. Photo: AFP

5. The Orléans Sainte-Croix Cathédral

“You just can’t visit Orléans without at least taking a picture of the Cathedral”, said Romain, a 36-year-old English teacher.

It’s true that you can’t really miss it as it is at the heart of the city centre and quite majestic. Built from 1278 to 1329 and rebuilt from 1601 after partial destruction in 1568, the Gothic edifice is as equally beautiful from the outside that it is on the inside.

The cathedral's stained-glass windows also tell the story of (who else) Joan of Arc.

The Hôtel Groslot in Orléans. Photo: AFP

6. L’Hôtel Groslot

If you exit the Cathedral and walk for a minute, you get to the front and that, of the Hotel Groslot, which also houses the town council (which dates all the way back to the French Revolution in 1789).

 

Its Renaissance style was kept intact and makes the place very unique with coffered ceilings draped with Aubusson tapestries that are so characteristic of the era.

“It may seem a bit too much the first time you walk in but I just love it”, Sacha, a friend of mine, said.

The Joan of Arc statue on the Place du Martroi. Photo: AFP

7. La Place du Martroi

The Place du Martroi is an other unmissable and Manon’s beloved place.

“It’s where me and my friends used to meet when we were in middle school”, recalls the 27-year-old student.

And if the Place du Martroi is a meeting place it is mostly because you can't miss it thanks to the statue of Joan of Arc overhanging the square.

The 165-year-old statue is erected on a block that marks the location of the Porte Bannier, once a city gate. It conceals a trap door leading to a hidden staircase taking you down to the Porte.

READ ALSO: So what's so bloody brilliant about Bordeaux then?

8. The Orléans Forest

 

If you want to escape the city's atmosphere for a bit, try the Forest of Orléans, it's only a 40 minutes drive away and it's well worth a visit.

Erica, 18, called it “the only forest that is not creepy, but it almost looks like it’s a decor for a Disney movie.”

9. The gardens

Though if you don’t feel like going that far away, there a plenty of lovely gardens to visit in Orléans.

 

The Parc Floral, the Hôtel Groslot’s gardens, the Parc Pasteur or the Jardin des Plantes, are places where you can set up a romantic date, enjoy a nice lunch break or just spend some quality family time.

10. The culinary specialities

After all this walking, why not learn about some tastier aspects of the Orléanais heritage?

The Centre-Val-de-Loire region is not the most famous French region when it comes to culinary specialities but you don’t want to leave Orléans without having tasted a Cotignac . This thick quince jelly that comes in a tiny round box made of spruce bark  should not be eaten on toast but rather like a sweet to lick. 

 

There's also Orléans' vinegar from the locally renowned Martin Pouret house, which makes a delicious mustard (less famous than Dijon mustard, but equally good) based on its vinegar.

For a week-end away, a week-long holiday or just a day off, Orléans may just be the perfect answer.

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LIVING IN FRANCE

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Strikes

But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.

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