One of France’s oldest towns and a recognised Ville d’Art et d’Histoire (Town of Art and History), Orléans’ history revolves around Joan of Arc, who was responsible for its liberation in 1429. This famous event is celebrated in April and May every year with a special series of concerts, exhibitions, sound and light shows, a medieval market and processions entering the town through the Port de Bourgogne. The Maison de Jeanne d’Arc pays tribute to this famous figure and there’s a road named after her too, leading directly to the Sainte-Croix cathedral, a marvel of Gothic architecture with two imposing towers whose façade is spectacularly illuminated after dark. Three museums are particularly worth visiting in Orléans: the Musée Historique et Archéologique de l’Orléanais, with a rare collection of Gallo-Roman bronze statues; the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which is home to fine pastels; and the FRAC Centre, a leading centre of contemporary art housed in a striking building nicknamed ‘Les Turbulences’. Also don’t miss the red-brick Hôtel Groslot and its statue of Joan of Arc.
Orléans’ centre has been spruced up in recent years and includes a newly-paved pedestrian district and creative lighting that showcases the numerous artist and artisan boutiques. The town has also regenerated its riverbanks, from which nature-focused excursions along the Loire are possible – and in summer the open-air ‘La Sardine’ café is abuzz with live music, an ideal place to sip a glass of Loire wine and soak up the laid-back atmosphere. Boating on the Loire has always been the focus of the Loire Festival, held every two years since 2003. At each festival more than 700 boatmen, 450 artists and around 100 exhibitors gather to introduce visitors to river navigation and the area’s traditional boats. Works of art, literature and local culinary specialities are also a part of it, all set to the rhythm of music from the dance halls. A guest river is celebrated at each festival: from 20-24 September 2017, it’s the Ebro in Spain. ¡Vamos!
Don't miss taking the kids – especially the younger ones – to Parc Floral de la Source, south of the river towards St-Cyr-en-Val. This 32-hectare site offers everything from a butterfly kingdom and a play area to puppet shows and glorious garden displays.