Before we dive into my visit to Orleans (although to be honest there is not a lot to dive into), there are a few “housekeeping” items I need to address. First, I have mentioned in previous posts that the French have no words to differentiate a castle from a palace from a fortress. This is not technically true. The word for palace is palais and the word for fortress is forteresse. So, it is not that they do not have the words it is that they do not use the words.

Secondly, when I first started this journey I promised myself that I would be faithful to the book, only visiting places by train, going alone and going in order. Two of the three of these I have cheated on and the third is about to go out the window too! My friend Ileana has started going on these trips with me and she has a car! As I am sure I have mentioned before I really do like road trips. It is wonderful to see the French countryside and have the chance to view it from a car going 70mph versus the TGV going 200mph. Also, being in a car gives you the opportunity to take other adventures, not accessible by train, a do a little exploring as we did on our way home from Orleans.

The drive to Orleans takes about an hour and a half from Paris on the peage (toll road). When we arrived at our first toll to collect our ticket we found that the car level dispenser was broken. This required Ileana to practically have to climb onto the roof of her car to collect the ticket from the 18 wheeler truck dispenser. In addition to these amusing road trip stories the great thing about traveling with Ileana is that she always gets us yummy pastries from Dominique Saibron before we head out 🙂

Orleans is located in the Loire Valley. It started as a Gallic stronghold before being conquered and destroyed by Julius Caesar in 52 BC. In 1108 it saw the coronation of Louis VI (Louis the Fat), an event usually saved for the cathedral at Reims. Because Orleans was one of the few cities to have a reliable bridge it became one of the richest cities in France along with Rouen and Paris.

Perhaps what Orleans is best known for, however, is Joan of Arc’s liberation of the city in 1429. Towards the end of the 100 Year’s War the city of Orleans had been conquered by the English. Against all odds (and claiming divine guidance) Joan was able to liberate the city, clearing the way for King Charles VII (rumoured to be the bastard son of the insane King Charles VI) to take back his country and ride to Reims with Joan of Arc to be crowned king.

The legend of Joan of Arc is that she was sent by God to deliver France from the English and lead Charles VII to Reims to be crowned king. In order to verify her as a messenger of God and not a witch her virginity was frequently verified. Apparently if she was not a virgin it meant she had made a pact with the devil and therefore could not be a messenger of God. Poor thing went through a lot in her short life.

Shortly after Charles’ coronation in Reims Joan was captured by the English. As the ungrateful Charles refused to pay her ransom she was subsequently taken to Rouen and burned at the stake by the English at the age of 19. Not just picking on Joan Charles also had Jacques Coeur – the man who had bank rolled his wars – imprisoned, property confiscated and tortured all so he would not have to repay the money. Nice guy. Makes you understand why his mother reportedly detested him and his son led a rebellion against him.

When arriving in Orleans, whether it be by train or by car, you are immediately struck by how NOT pretty this city is. Between its 1950-1970 architecture, graffiti and uncharming feel the city does not grab you with the same French country charm of the other places we have visited outside Paris.

There is a very pretty old city where the cathedral stands but otherwise the city is rather unremarkable. The cathedral was built between 1278 and 1329. From the outside it is one of the prettiest cathedrals I have seen. Its towers are magnificent and the church appears enormous, much bigger than other cathedrals I have visited. Inside is a huge stained glass rose window designed like the sun. In the middle is Louis XIV. It is amazing how Louis inserts himself into everything. Another pompous monarch like Charles VII. The other stained glass windows in the cathedral depict Joan of Arc’s short life from her peasant childhood in the North of France to her death in Rouen.

When walking to the rebuilt house where Joan spent ten days during the siege we found out a bit more about why the city did not have the same old, beautiful architecture of other cities. As I mentioned, Orleans is filled with not so attractive modern buildings. During WWII the Germans made Orleans the center of rail travel for their troops. During the liberation the American Air Force heavily bombed the city, destroying most of it. Thankfully the Allied troops did a pretty good job of avoiding hitting France’s beautiful cathedrals, including Cathedrale Sainte-Croix d’Orleans.

All in all Orleans was not one of my more favourite stops on these trips. I found the city to be pretty uninspiring. The story of Joan of Arc is fascinating but it does not require visiting Orleans since very little of the city she knew is still standing other than the altar in the cathedral. Ileana and I decided to leave an hour early and head back to Paris as we exhausted all there was to do in Orleans.

On our way back we passed a sign for the Chateau Chamerolles. As we had left Orleans early we decided to take a detour and check it out. Off the beaten path Chamerolles is not a place you can access by train. It is a very pretty little chateau with six gardens surrounding it that must be spectacular in the spring and summer. The chateau was originally a key location for the perfume industry and has a spectacular display of early machinery and bottles used. Definitely worth cheating on the book and taking a car.

We are just about at the end of the Middle Ages and moving into the Renaissance. Last stop in the Middle Ages and next stop – Rouen.