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Orléans France

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Orléans is on a bend in the Loire and is the most northern of the Loire Valley's repertoire of historical towns. There is an important university in Orleans that continued to teach law after Pope Honorius banned the teaching of law in Paris in 1219. More famously, Joan of Arc liberated Orléans from a seven month siege by the English in 1429 and then took Dauphin Charles VII to Reims to be crowned.

May 8th is Joan of Arc Day and the whole week is filled with parades and fireworks. Tributes to the patron saint of France abound and there is a statue of her on a horse in place du Martroi, the main square that joins the gare SNCF with the old town by way of the rue de la République. The tourist office is at 6 rue Albert 1er (02 38 24 05 05) on the other side of the Centre d'Arc shopping mall to the station. The Musée de Jeanne d'Arc, 3 place Général de Gaulle (€2) has a child friendly display outlining the heroine's life, in a reconstruction of the house she stayed in during 1429 (the original house was lost during WWII).

The Hotel Groslot, built in 1550 52, is a Renaissance mansion that belonged to the Jacques Groslot family until 1790, when it became the (now obsolete) town hall. The interior is sheer 1850s exuberance, and the room where Francois II died here in 1560 after ruling for one year is now used for marriages. Opposite is the Musée des Beaux Arts (€3), which has good temporary exhibitions. The ticket also gains you entry to the Hotel Cabu, on square Abbé Desnoyers off rue Charles Sanglier, a Renaissance masterpiece demonstrating three Classical styles. Inside the prize piece is the Treasure of Neuvy en Sullias, a 3AD cache of buried bronze figures and animals found in 1861.

Accommodation in the centre includes the Marguerite at 14 place du Vieux Marché (02 38 53 74 32), with freshly decorated rooms from €40 55, or there is the quieter Des Cèdres at 17 rue Maréchal Foch (02 38 62 22 92) with garden and rooms from €55 70. For under €30 you can stay in the De Paris, 29 Faubourg Bannier (02 38 53 39 58) near the station and with helpful staff. For food you can do worse than Les Antiquaires, 2 4 rue au Lin (02 38 53 52 35). Book in advance to sample their €34 menu (not Sat eve/Sun) with select wines, or €39 and €54 menus, all prepared by one of France's top chefs. Otherwise, wander along to the rue de Bourgogne, the main road in Roman times, where there are some good restaurants like La Petite Marmite at number 178 (02 38 54 23 83) with menus of local dishes from €18.