|Heading back to the Middle Ages...|
The destination was selected thanks to SNCF, France’s national train service. Using their website, I found 20 euro round-trip tickets to several towns. After a quick look on WikiVoyage, I kept coming back to Orléans, about an hour south of Paris, on the Loire River.
Now, we had spent a significant amount of time in the Loire this summer, but I had never been to Orléans. More than the namesake for the “New” version in the US, and with less gumbo, it is a hub of medieval history where Joan of Arc famously led French troops into battle against the English.
The night before heading off, I skimmed a New YorkTimes article on 36 hours in the town (way too much time to plan for, if you ask me) and found out that a one-star Michelin restaurant was nestled along the river. I figured I’d make a reservation in the morning, since I’d never dined in a Michelin starred restaurant.
Wednesday morning, my travel partner and I grabbed our backpacks and headed to Gare d’Austerlitz, ready for a mini adventure. Upon arrival at the train station, I called the restaurant to see if I could make a reservation. I snagged one. The day was planned. Wander. Lunch. Wander. A drink. Head home. Easy enough.
In terms of sights, there isn’t too much to see, since the town is more of a base for those visiting the wine makers and chateaus in the Loire Valley – if you rent a car. The more impressive ones are a bit farther away.
But if you just want to stay in town, there is plenty to do for a day. The impressive cathedral, Sainte Croix d’Orléans, is a good place to start before heading to the adjacent Office of Tourism for a map. The stained glass windows depict numerous scenes from Joan of Arc's life (and death).
Afterwards, we wandered around the smaller streets of the old town, like rue Bourgogne and Place de la République, where a statue of their local celebrity Joan of Arc looks over the square. The girl is seriously everywhere. We managed to work up an appetite wandering for an hour or so, passing by the Quai du Châtelet along the river. Finally we headed to the Lièvre Gourmand (The Gourmet Hare?), expecting to be fed something special – that one Michelin star being the first one I’d ever known.
And the restaurant did not disappoint. The chef, who recently took over the one-star restaurant from its Australian founder (who retired to Miami, go figure), kept the plates rolling out for the 45 euro lunch menu we chose. Two plates for 35 euros just didn’t seem like enough. Three dishes and dessert were offered, and we splurged for a house cocktail, a glass of wine, and coffee for a very reasonable price.
But the dishes – oiy. Truffles and risotto, scallops with radishes, and a sweet potato parmentier were among the dishes that we tasted, each one paired with a smaller side, like foie gras, soba noodles, and broccoli soup. It was a total yum fest. And the best part? We had the whole place to ourselves. It was almost a bit intimidating to be the sole customers (on a random Wednesday afternoon in November) but the server, the chef’s wife, was easy-going and very helpful.
And let’s not even talk about the pumpkin soufflé and lemon-basil meringues we had for dessert…
Our bellies filled and our expectations forever exceeded, we wandered back out in the town. Sightseeing time!
A ticket at the nearby Joan of Arc House gives you a short informative film about the city’s most famous visitor. The ticket also grants entrance to the tiny, but why-not-it’s-there archaeological museum, including more on Joan's life. You could also putz around the science and nature museum, or the FRAC, the city’s contemporary art hall, but there was too much sun to mess around with every museum.
We headed back to the cathedral to the nearby Hôtel Groslot, open for free. The old town hall at one point, it features five gorgeous rooms that once welcomed kings and dukes. Today they are where locals get married. The wallpaper, nailed to the wall, is a 19th century design meant to mimic how the building was decorated in the late 16th century when Henri III was king. And yes, it’s really totally free. And there is a bathroom.
|Inside Hôtel Groslot|
By the end of the day, you’ve kind of seen the town, and unless you really like small museums, there isn’t a whole lot to keep you around for a second day unless you're off to explore the rest of the Loire Valley. But since tickets are available, as mentioned, for 20 euros round trip, it’s easy and justifiable to head back to Paris around 7PM with a few pastries for the ride from the Patisserie les Musardines, just in front of the station on rue de la République.
And if nothing else, splash out on that lunch at the Lièvre Gourmand – you won’t be disappointed.
GO: SNCF, 20 euro deals from Gare d’Austerlitz
STAY: Um, maybe don’t…
EAT: Lièvre Gourmand, for lunch. Patisserie les Musardines for a sweet or savory to go (I'm sure there are others)
SEE: Cathedral Sainte Croix d’Orléans, Hôtel Groslot, Quai du Châtelet (riverbanks), Place de la République, Maison de Jeanne d’Arc (Joan Arc house)