The Loire Valley: Places to Explore

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Orléans

The story of the Hundred Years' War, Joan of Arc, and the Siege of Orléans is widely known. In 1429 France had hit rock bottom. The English and their Burgundian allies were carving up the kingdom. Besieged by the English, Orléans was one of the last towns about to yield, when a young Lorraine peasant girl, Joan of Arc, arrived to rally the troops and save the kingdom. During the Wars of Religion (1562–98), much of the cathedral was destroyed. A century ago ham-fisted town planners razed many of the city's fine old buildings. Both German and Allied bombs helped finish the job during World War II.

So perhaps it is no surprise that Orléans once had the biggest inferiority complex this side of Newark, New Jersey. So the townsfolk clung to the city's finest moment—the coming of la pucelle d'Orléans (the Maid of Orleans), Joan of Arc, to liberate the city from the English during the Hundred Years' War. There's little left from Joan's time, but the city is festooned with everything from her equestrian monument to a Jeanne d'Arc Dry Cleaners. Today Orléans is a thriving commercial city. Better, it has a wonderful historic Vielle Ville (Old Town) district, the creation of 10 years of sensitive urban renewal, which has succeeded in adding enormous charm, especially to the medieval streets between the Loire and the city cathedral.

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