Orléanais

The Orléanais was the heartland or “navel” of druidic power in the
centuries before the Roman conquest, and the region was again thrust
into national prominence as the home fief of the Capetian dynasty,
which ruled France from the tenth to the fourteenth centuries. In the
great years of the French monarchy, however, the Orléanais had the misfortune
to fall between two poles of royal power: Touraine and the Ile-de-France, and
in the last few centuries the Orléanais has gently lapsed into provincial irrelevance.
Even the region’s modern title, the département of the Loiret, refers to a
tiny stream, in contrast to neighbours glowing under the relatively noble
names of the Cher and the Seine-et-Marne. This has always been – and
remains – a wealthy region, but the sense of departed grandeur is even stronger
here than in the rest of the Loire Valley: the châteaux seem quieter and more
abandoned, and the churches, forests and abbeys more ancient. On the left
bank, south of the Loire, lies the low-lying marshy woodland of the Sologne
(covered, for the most part, in Chapter 2, see p.167). On the right bank, the
dull, flat arable fields of the Beauce stretch away to the northwest, towards
Chartres, while the great, dark swathe of the Forêt d’Orléans looms to the
northeast. As a tourist destination, the Orléanais is an acquired taste – and
relatively few tourists make the effort.


Orléans itself has a very different feel to the rest of the region. Enterprising
and upbeat, the city seems more oriented towards Paris and the future than to
the river and the history that flows through it. But the city’s past does bind it
firmly to the Orléanais, especially in the person of Joan of Arc, the “Maid of
Orléans”, who is celebrated in the magnificent cathedral. Some excellent town
museums and a relaxed restaurant and nightlife scene make the city all the more
appealing. Directly south of Orléans and included in this chapter as an obvious
day-trip from the city, is the charming brick-built château at La Ferté-St-
Aubin, on the northern fringe of the Sologne.


Downriver of Orléans, the small, pretty towns of Meung-sur-Loire and
Beaugency huddle on the bank of the Loire within a few kilometres of each
other, each with its historic château in the very centre of town. Meung’s château
is the more interesting of the two to visit, but Beaugency, with its cobbled
medieval squares and excellent hotels, is a more attractive place to stay. Interesting
side-trips can be made to the château de Talcy, with its poetic links, and
the royal abbey church at Cléry-St-André.
Upriver from Orléans, the north bank is shadowed by the giant Forêt
d’Orléans, a good place to explore on a bike, or pass through on the way to
the château de Chamerolles’ perfume museum. One fifteen-kilometre
stretch of the Loire is particularly fascinating: you can visit a jewel box of a Carolingian oratory at Germigny-des-Près, a major Romanesque abbey
church at St-Benoît-sur-Loire and a muscular château at Sully-sur-Loire.
A little further up the river, the brick-built château and town of Gien are
often held to mark the end of the Loire Valley proper, but it’s worth persevering
as far as Briare, where the Canal Latéral crosses the river on an exquisite
nineteenth-century aqueduct. Near Gien, the château at St-Brisson-sur-
Loire and the Château des Pêcheurs at La Bussière – one devoted to
medieval artillery, the other to fishing – are quirky and little-visited
destinations.
Online information on the département of the Loiret and the Orléanais can
be found at wwww.tourismloiret.com. Rapides du Val-de-Loire
(t02.38.61.90.00, wwww.rvl-info.com) operate almost all the area’s buses,
though services are only frequent enough to be useful downstream of Orléans – an area which is better served by the train anyway. If you do want to use the
bus, timetables can be viewed at wwww.ulys-loiret.com.

 

 

Highlights
✱ Rue de Bourgogne, Orléans
Lively bars and relaxed restaurants
line Orléans’ old Roman
road, the rue de Bourgogne.
See p.194
✱ Fonderie Bollée Time your
visit for a Friday, and you can
see church bells being cast
using ancient techniques at this
bell foundry just outside Orléans.
See p.197
✱ La Ferté-St-Aubin You’re free
to sit in the armchairs, play the
piano and generally imagine
yourself the châtelain at this
Sologne château. See p.197
✱ Beaugency This medieval town
is one of the most attractive
places to stay anywhere on the
banks of the Loire. See p.201
✱ Talcy A foray north onto the
plain of the Beauce brings you
to the château where Cassandre,
the muse of the poet
Ronsard, lived. See p.205
✱ St-Benoît-sur-Loire The
mortal remains of St Benedict
brought pilgrims in their
thousands to this handsome
stone abbey. See p.210
✱ Château des Pêcheurs The
aristocratic obsession with
angling is all too evident at
this eccentric château. See
p.216
✱ Briare An extraordinary BelleÉpoque
aqueduct carries a
canal high over the Loire itself.
You can cross it on foot or on a
canal-boat cruise. See p.217