The Loire River originates in the Massif central, towards the south of France. It heads north as far as the important city of Orleans, after which it heads west towards the sea. It is perhaps best known as one of the cities visited by Joan of Arc.
As a result Orleans, capital of the 'Centre' region, represents the eastern end of the section of the river referred to as the 'Loire Valley', and containing the most famous castles and tourist sights. Orleans city itself lost many buildings during the destructive World War II, but is now tourist and university centre of considerable renown.
Orleans Musee de Beaux Arts: The city of Orleans is rich in history and art, so where better to start a tour than the Museum of Fine Arts. The Museum houses a masterpiece by Velasquez [1599-1660] (called the 'Saint Thomas'), and some landscapes by François Boucher (1703-1770). The museum also has a rich collection of works by 16th century Italian painters Correggio, Carracci, Annibale, Agostino and Ludovico, and modern and contemporary art by Jean Hélion, Paul Gauguin and Picasso. In the Great Hall you can admire a painting by Simon Hantai (1922-2008), nearly 17 metres, a landscape by Olivier Debré (1920-1999) and a picture from the Chinese painter Zao Wo Ki (born in 1921).
Another outstanding building in Orleans is the Hotel Groslot, built in the 15th century and formerly residence of the local magistrate Jacques Groslot (who died in 1560). The building was then used as Town Hall during the French Revolution. Several famous people passed through here, including King Francis II (1544-1560). The interior, in which you can admire the medieval style bedroom, contains various objects that recall Joan of Arc and it is decorated with precious paintings dating from the eighteenth century.
Among the religious buildings be sure to visit Orleans Cathedral, which stands on the site an existing church that was founded in the third century by the Bishop of Orleans, Saint Euverte. Destroyed by Protestants several times in the 16th century during the wars of religion it was later rebuilt and embellished by many of the Kings of France (Henry IV [1553-1610], Louis XIII (1601-1643) and Louis XIV [1638-1715]). In typical Gothic style, it has a very tall (80 metres) towers with a central spire of 100 metres. The interior is a soaring structure, with slender columns and vaulted ceiling, lit by stained glass windows with scenes and episodes from the life of Joan of Arc.
Continuing the same theme, in Place General de Gaulle is the 'Maison de Janne d'Arc' (House of Joan of Arc) where she stayed in 1429. In fact the building was rebuilt after the Second World War, and contains various objects depicting Orleans during the siege from which Joan of Arc saved it.
The figure of Joan of Arc is present everywhere in town - in Place du Martroi stands a huge equestrian statue of Joan of Arc, a work of bronze by Denis Foyatier [1793-1863] (1855).
Another way in which Orleans shows itself to be deeply rooted in its traditions is evident local restaurants, which include ancient traditional recipes, such as the 'brachette de lotte', 'andouillette artisanale', 'pavé d'ane' and other French regional dishes, like braised rabbit with wild mushrooms.
(The story of the name of the city has been much disputed over the centuries, and experts continue to disagree today - see the history of the name Orleans.)