Take a daytrip from Paris to explore more of what France has to offer.
Is Paris really different to the rest of France? You’ll only know if you venture outside the sprawling city limits. Orléans is an easy 1.5-hour train ride from Gare d’Austerlitz in the capital’s 13th arrondissement. Located in the Loire Valley, the home of good wine and glorious chateaus, there’s an abundance of art and history to explore in this contained city. Here’s how to spend a day exploring, although remember: no visit is complete without a stroll along the banks of the Loire.
Dip into French history
Orléans was where Joan of Arc led the French to victory. While she wasn’t born there, the city has celebrated the Maid of Orléans as its own since she helped break the siege of the city in the 1400s. Maison de Jeanne d’Arc (3 Place du Général de Gaulle; entry €6) is a reconstruction of the home she stayed in for 10 days prior to the battle. Examine the façade or enter (€6) the interactive multimedia room to learn more about her life and France in the Middle Ages.
Walk among the butterflies
Seek out space at Le Parc Floral de la Source, a 35-hectare park about nine kilometres from the centre of Orléans, where the Loire resurfaces. The butterfly house is a must: a tropical greenhouse home to species of the creatures from destinations including Indonesia, Costa Rica and Madagascar. There are also separate gardens dedicated to a single type of flower – roses, irises and dahlias, to name a few – as well as playgrounds, a mini-golf course, a small train that loops around the park and plenty of lawns to lay on under the sun. Adult entry is €6.
Block out at least two hours to indulge in French cuisine. Behind the deep-red door of a shuttered, stone building on the banks of the Loire, you’ll find the Michelin-starred restaurant Le Lièvre Gourmand (28 Quai du Châtelet). They’re only open four days a week for lunch (Thursday–Sunday) and for €39 you can have two dishes, plus dessert and cheese. Suggestions? Fried crab with avocado and mango, and a banana soufflé served with passionfruit sorbet, rum and honey.
Take home a piece of the past
If antique furniture is your thing, walk down Rue du Bourgogne. It’s a shopping hub and home to several antiques dealers, should a turn-of-the-century chair be on your holiday shopping list. If you’re after clothing, head towards the city centre and you’ll find an array of boutiques, as well as Galeries Lafayette (6 Rue Thiers), the upmarket department store.
Contemplate modern art
Though the Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Orléans (1 Rue Fernand Rabier) is one of the oldest museums in France, step into the current century with a trip to the FRAC Centre (88 Rue du Colombier). Its collection combines contemporary art and experimental architecture from the 1950s onwards, with 600 works, 800 architectural models and 15,000 drawings. You’ll spot it no trouble: just look for “Turbulences”, tubular structures emerging from the ground. Invest in a guided visit (€125) for a greater understanding of the pieces.
An evening glass before the trip back
When you’re in wine country, it would be rude not to sample the region’s specialties. Orléans styles include dry rosés, fruity reds and aromatic whites so land a hat-trick by trying all three. Les Becs à Vin wine bar (8 Place du Châtelet) opens at 6pm every day except Sunday and serves a selection of wines by the glass. They also serve cheese and deli boards as well as small snacks, such as quiche and smoked fish.