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Surrounded by locales renowned for their beauty, it’s little wonder that Orléans once suffered from an inferiority complex. A century ago ham-fisted urban planners razed many of its fine old buildings; then both German and Allied bombs helped finish the job during World War II. Today, though, Orléans is a thriving commercial city—and, thanks to a decade of sensitive urban renewal, its Vieille Ville (Old Town) has been gorgeously restored, thereby adding enormous charm to the streets between the Loire and the cathedral.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the pride locals take in la pucelle d'Orléans (the Maid of Orleans); otherwise known as Joan of Arc, she arrived in 1429 intent on rallying the troops and saving the kingdom from the English during a crucial episode in the Hundred Years' War. Admittedly, there's little left here from the saintly teen’s time, but the city honors her through assorted statutes, museum exhibits, and an annual festival (the Fêtes de Jeanne d'Arc).

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