Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Europe (
-   -   Orleans - Off-Beat Day Trip from Paris (

Palenque Oct 29th, 2009 06:18 AM

Orleans - Off-Beat Day Trip from Paris
I've had the fortune to spend several weeks a year for years in Orleans, about an hour south of Paris by train or road and this report will be a compilation of years of exploring Orleans, which if not on the radar of the average tourist when talking about day trips from Paris, or when talking about sojourns in the Loire Valley - the river Loire runs thru the heart of Orleans.

So here goes:

Orleans is an ancient town - called Aurelius i believe in Roman days - but due to being a rail and industrial centre during WW2 much of the old town was blitzed (by American and British bombs to dislodge and disrupt the German occupiers). So the Orleans you see today is a pleasant but fairly modern version of one of France's oldest and most historic towns.

Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc) is the famous local hero and patron Saint becacuse she delivered the town from the cltuches of the evil English forces - you see a equestrian statue with Joan inf full military regalia dotting the town's main square and you can visit the house Joan allegedly stayed in, right on the main square. It now hosts a small Jeanne d'Arc museum - the house like much of the town centre is a replica of one destroyed in WW2.

But Orleans' blockbuster sight is it really imposing monumental Cathedral, one of the largest in France, if not the most glorious on the inside.

Trains roll frequently from Paris' Gare Austerlitz to the just re-built futuristic-looking Orleans train station in the heart of town, making this an easy if novel day trip from Paris - or for those touring the Loire a possible stop as well.

TBC - Top Sights

tod Oct 29th, 2009 06:51 AM

Thank you Palenque for giving us another day excursion from the hustle and bustle of Paris. I really enjoy venturing further afield now and again when one is completely saturated with museum viewing, rue strolling, cafe people watching, and just giving Paris a miss for a day!

Palenque Oct 30th, 2009 07:25 AM

thanks tod - you echo my sentiments exactly - love the phrase 'rue strolling'

Before going further here are some details on Orleans' blockbuster sight - its humungous St Croix Cathedral, which literally dominates the town center and is itself a reason for coming here. That said the cathedral gets little hype from tourists, who may be surprised at is sheer size and unique 'wedding-cake Gothic facade'.

Sainte-Croix Cathedral (cathedral, Orleans, France) -- Britannica ...
Britannica online encyclopedia article on Sainte-Croix Cathedral (cathedral, Orleans, France), The Sainte-Croix Cathedral, begun in the 13th century, ... - Cached - Similar

Orleans France Cathedral - Sainte-Croix Cathedral
The interior of the Sainte-Croix Cathedral in Orleans France is spectacular. The architecture of the church is gothic style.

annesherrod Nov 2nd, 2009 10:30 AM

We were invited to a baby christening that took place at an old catheral here - and the reception was at a private old residnce that looked like a castle. We could not make it though.
The couple now lives in Spain, but I am thinking of going there in the spring when I take my 18 yo daughter to paris.
Thanks for the information!!
The photos I have seen from there are breath-taking.

Palenque Nov 2nd, 2009 11:30 AM

annes - yup weddings in the cathedral seem to be popular and across the street in the Mairie or City Government building complex there is i believe an ornate old-looking castle-like edifice that the town does rent out for lavish receptions - maybe not the same place though


Orleans is just about one hour by train (bit longer by road) from Paris' Austerlitz train station with dozens of trains a day and many Orleans folk do commute daily to Paris - whenever i hop the train in the morning to Paris the platfroms are swarming with folks obviously commuting to Paris jobs - kind of a brief case brigade.
There are two main train stations in Orleans, with the most-used one just over a mile north of the dead-end in-town Orleans train terminus - most locals use the Aubrais-Orleans train station, which is on the main rail line between Paris, Blois and St-Pierre-des-Corps (Tours main station). Quite a few trains only halt at Les Aubrais, as it is called, and do not actually go into the deadend Orleans train station.
If your train is not going into Orleans proper then at Aubrais there will be a usually waiting Navette or shuttle train awaiting on an adjoining platform and just follow the crowd from the mainline train to the navette, which goes non-stop the mile or so to the in-town Orleans station, in the heart of everything a tourist will be interested in.
So though it is best to get a Paris train that goes to the in-town Orleans station, having to change at Les Aubrais is a snap as well.

Going thru Etampes and its Leaning Tower, the fabled Beauce and along the derelict infrastructure of the totally weird Aerotrain Bertain.

JulieVikmanis Nov 2nd, 2009 12:25 PM

This is an interesting "trip report" of sorts. Rather than a report of many places from one trip, a report of one place from many trips. Great idea. Looking forward to the rest.

Michel_Paris Nov 2nd, 2009 12:31 PM

Thanks Pal. This was one of my first stops on a Loire trip way back. I believe they have a nice art gallery there also?

annesherrod Nov 3rd, 2009 06:07 AM

thanks for the detailed train information as well - very helpful!

tdk320n Nov 3rd, 2009 09:31 AM


Palenque Nov 3rd, 2009 11:08 AM

Michel - yeh the Musee des Beaux Arts is, for such a city, highly acclaimed - esp for its Old Masters - Flemish, Italian, Dutch, etc. Like many sights throughout France, closed on Mondays (open daily 10am-6pm) - just opposite the Cathedral so easy to include on any visit

notes for later use for myself - Parc Pasteur; Brocante Marche; Loire bridge; canal; Tower Saint Jacques; rue Burgogne; Place d'Arc; May 8th; Rue Republique, Martoir; Les Halles.

Palenque Nov 4th, 2009 06:59 AM


An interesting part of any day trip for me is the journey - by train or by road - in this case the main N20 road pretty much follows the rail line.

Austerlitz Station is the departure point for trains to Les Aubrais and Orleans stations (though there is one daily train to/from CDG Airport and Orleans).

Starting from Austerlitz the train rolls by, on the east side, new developments that replace formerly derelict industrial edifices that have largely been demolished - though for sentimental reasons the words 'Moulins des Paris' (sp?) still graces one huge cement tower - reminding folks of the old grain mills that ground grains from the Beauce just to the south into flower.

The Bilbioteque National Francois Mitterand is an imposing new structure and around it has sprouted one of the new redeveloped parts of Paris.

After passing under the Peripherique, Paris' ring autoroute the train enters into an area of rather down at their heels suburbs lining the Seine River, like Choisy-le-Roi, and industrial installations such as the Aqua de Paris (sp?) - where the city's water supply i guess comes from.

For a while the train rolls right along the Seine, which is always pleasant for me. Reaching Bretigny the train plows thru immense rail yards to emerge in leafier suburbs with a hint of rural atmosphere creeping in.

And voila - soon you're out of the Paris connurbation and into the Beauce - the vast Beauce, one of the world's great bread baskets as they say - where huge farms of wheat, corn, etc. that dominate the flat landscape for miles around. The Beauce, i'm told, has a huge aquifer under it, making possible vast irrigation in hot weather.

Then comes Etampes, a largish regional town with a neat wrought-iron train shed the train speeds thru (most trains go non-stop to Les Aubrais) - keep your eyes peeled on the east or left side of the train for a very unique site - the Leaning Tower of Etampes - a huge church belfry that has become detached from the church proper and precipitously leans at a disconerting angle.

After Etampes, where RER trains branch off, you really enter the Beauce proper and all you can see are farms until the weird Aeretrain Bertin elevated monorail-like elevated train line appears.

More on this unique thing next time - i've been on trains when Americans are perplexed by just what this relic could be - many think it's an aqeduct, but it history is much more interesting than that!


Palenque Nov 4th, 2009 12:52 PM


Beauce (region, France) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia
Britannica online encyclopedia article on Beauce (region, France), region, northwestern France. It stretches southwest of Paris toward the Forêt d'Orléans.

Wikipédia - [ Translate this page ]
La Beauce est une région naturelle française agricole très fertile qui couvre environ six cent mille hectares. Située au sud-ouest de Paris, elle s'étend ...

nukesafe Nov 4th, 2009 02:17 PM

Bookmarking this most interesting thread.

Michel_Paris Nov 4th, 2009 02:37 PM

Out of curiosity, why did you pick Orleans to be your base for so many years?

Palenque Nov 5th, 2009 09:00 AM

Cher Michel: Not a voluntary pick or i would have picked someplace more, let's say dreamy and old world - much of Orleans was smashed to smithereens during WWII by Allied bombs because it was a strategic German-held rail and inudstrial center so is not as lovingly old-world as many French cities not so decimated.

So it was a quirk of fate - I married an Orleanais gal and had a son and as things worked out, or did not, she decided to stay in Orleans and as we were and still are good friends and co-parents i would spend a couple of months a year in Orleans (actually Saran, a new-town suburb), in the summer watching my son and this involved a lot of batting about Orleans, etc. But i grew to love Orleans as a home away from home.

Speaking of the war - my in-laws, the elderly ones can well recall the German occupation and Allied bombing raids. Mi-mere (granny) always said that the British flew low to the ground, making more pinpointed bombing targets but the Americans flew rather high so their bombs were not so precise and caused much of the damage - their was not bitterness in this but just a fact and she said everyone in Orleans welcomed the American liberating troops with open arms, as they did everywhere in France i believe. A sister-in-law fondly talks of working for the American army in the 50s and young kids remember GIs tossing bubble gum and candy at them. That is where she first encounterd marshmallows and marshmallow cream - two things that she still craves and which i send to her every Christmas.

The Americans took over the large military garrison on Boulevard Chateaudun, after the war and stayed until De Gaulle 'kicked them out' as locals say when he pulled France out of NATO (I am not sure of historical accuracy of that, but) - there is one relic in Orleans of the Americans still discernable - an American-style housing subdivision with American style housing - meaning no walls around the front yard, large grassy lawns, etc. I recently went back there and viola the French who live there just cannot stand not having a wall around there house and nearly every lawn now sports one.

As Orleans was and is a major major rail center for freight as witnessed by the huge marshalling yards around the Les Aubrais train station, many houses on nearby streets were severaly bombed and even today every once in a while when digging for sewers, etc. unexploded ordinance are found here.

Americans never have had war on their own soil in modern times yet older folk in Orleans have - one sister-in-law remembers when the locals heard the Germans were coming and everyone fled on foot and bicycles south thru the Sologne, heading for the Cher River, on the other side of what would become (or maybe was at that time) Vichy France. She said that after a few days of trekking south, the German troops caught up with them, and told them to go back home - the clincher was when the Germans said don't worry the boulangeries will be open and have bread.

The gestapo occupied the house next to Mi-Mere's house and the older kids remember this mysterious thing as well. Her husband had, most importantly, hidden the wine.

Anyway that things like this occured here within the memory of folks still living always amazed, and saddened, me.

Oh well pardon the long digression answer to Michel's short question.

annesherrod Nov 5th, 2009 03:09 PM

I enjoyed reading your digression!!

My husbands' very good friend married a woman from Orleans as well! She is delightful and married a Spaniard! Her family is still there and they go often to visit that is why we were invited to a Christening there..... I digress now.....

Palenque Nov 6th, 2009 12:39 PM

Abour 2/3s of the way to Orleans train passengers can well see, on the east side of the train, the remains of the weird Aerotrain Bertin - a prototype hovercraft train running over cement guideways with metal on their tops - all built over farmers' fields on high pillars that for the most part are all intact today and which parallel today's train line all the way to not far from Les Aburais train station.
Development started in the late 60s and by the mid 70s the French government instead decided to develop the land-based TGV as a more efficient (Aerotrain cars could only carry a few dozen folks) and cheaper to build.
So this aerotrain line, once meant to link Orelans to Paris is a relic echoing back to heady days in high-speed rail development.
It's hard to imagine bullet trains speeding over this monorail like train line but... today locals use the old cement line to put up slogans - for years one opposed to abortion was in place - it may still be there and other politico sayings.
too expensive to tear down probably, the pillars and course of the monorail remain - probably until they get so decrepeit they will be pulled down for safety reasons. Meanwhile farms use them to store bales of haw, etc under them and the platforms that used to have train garages and stations on them.

From Wikipedia:

<Aérotrain prototype #02The Aérotrain was a hovercraft train developed in France from 1965 to 1977. The lead engineer was Jean Bertin.

The goal of the Aérotrain was similar to that of the magnetic levitation train: to suspend the train above the tracks so the only resistance is that of air resistance. Consequently, the Aérotrain could travel at very high speeds with reasonable energy consumption and noise levels, but without the technical complexity and expensive tracks of magnetic levitation. This project was abandoned in 1977 due to lack of funding, the death of Jean Bertin, and the adoption of TGV by the French government as its high>érotrain

Palenque Nov 10th, 2009 11:34 AM

a video of the Aerotrain Bertin running on the raised pillars still today paralleling about 20 miles of rail line just before Les Aubrais-Orleans train station.

I keep thinking this is something more out of Jules Verne than modern technology!

JulieVikmanis Nov 11th, 2009 01:51 AM

Fascinating stuff. Thanks.

Palenque Nov 11th, 2009 12:07 PM

thanks for the nice comment!

Right where the old Aerotrain line ends means you are approaching Les Aubrais-Orleans train station, the main station in terms of number of passengers in Orleans - pay attention to see if your train will continue into Orleans' dead-end Orleans station, or often it will not go into Orleans but keep going in the direction of Blois or Vierzon and not going into Orleans.
If you train is not going into Orleans then at Aubrais just follow the crowd that gets off the mainline train and transfers to the dumpy old navette shuttle train that goes the just over a mile into the Orleans terminus.
You will know when the Les Aubrais station is coming up not only by the end of the Aerotrain line but when you see huge rail yards for freight trains - including the ubiqutious Trans Cereals (sp?) grain trains that move the immense produce of the Beauce out of the area.
The Les Aubrais train station is dismal - just dismal - one of the ugliest and least welcoming in all of Europe that i have seen. In fact there is nearly no station - just platforms with a little shelter over them - the tiny station underground has little to offer so there is no reason to linger here.

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 04:23 AM.