By Irene Fogarty
Like every big city, you need to get away from it often to appreciate it more. Paris is no exception. So when I had a jour de fête recently, I decided to ‘faire le pont’ (take the Friday off to make a long weekend) and get out of Paris. The plan was Orléans. Perhaps because this years marks the 600th anniversary of Jeanne D’arc (Joan of Arc) or simply because it’s only an hour away by train and I could bring my bike! Cycling to Gare Austerlitz, hopping on the train with my bike and voilà. Welcome to Orléans. In addition to the highights of the trip that I’ve listed here, what you find is a charming city that feels like a village with a quality of life that’s as high as Paris yet nothing as expensive. Just an hour away, Orléans offers a lot more than a break away from its sister city.
Get stung at the Hotel de l’Abeille
Literally 3 minutes from Gare D’Orléans, is a charming rococo, Old World boutique hotel called Hotel de l’Abeille. With 30 antiques-filled rooms inside an early-20th-century grand house, an English drawing room-like ground floor, and a top-floor garden that offers rooftop views of Orléans. There’s also an organic breakfast offered for 11 euros. Doubles start from 70-100€ (depending on the season). Hotel de L’Abeille, 64, rue Alsace-Lorraine, hoteldelabeille.com
Joan of Arc’s house
See how Joan of Arc lived in a recreated half-timbered house during the battle of Orléans. With touch-screen computers, you get a short film that recounts her birth in Dorémy, her message from God to fight against the English, her victorious campaign in Orléans in 1429, the failed campaign to retake Paris, her capture and trial to her death at the stake in 1431. Then stroll over to the monumental Cathédrale Ste.-Croix d’Orléans where Joan of Arc prayed for her cause. Be sure to see the neo-Gothic cathedral’s 10 stained-glass windows portraying scenes of her life. For just 4 euros, this is a great way to spend an afternoon. Maison de Jeanne d’Arc 3, Place du Général de Gaulle, 33-2-38-68-32-63; jeannedarc.com.fr
Jump on Tram Line A (1.40 euros) for 20 minute ride from Place du Général de Gaulle to Parc Floral de la Source and enjoy one of the area’s loveliest green spaces. 86 acres of the park is home to over 950 species of irises, an enormous soft lawn and Le Jardin des Formes, where trees have been trimmed into cloudlike shapes and other planetary forms. Just breath-taking. Be sure to catch the butterfly house, where exotic species come from as far away as Indonesia and Madagascar. Parc Florale de la Source, Avenue du Parc Floral, parcfloraldelasource.com; 6 euros admission)
Mouth-watering Michelin star eatery
Although we didn’t get a chance to try Orléans only Michelin-starred restaurant, we did hear wonderful things about it. Le Lieve Groumand. Created by the chef William Page, this twin-house resto serves a lot of raw fish dishes. Prix fixe menus are 35 euros (two courses and dessert), 45 euros (three courses and dessert) and 55 euros (four courses and dessert) a person. Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. Le Lievre Gourmane, 28 Quai du Châtelet, 33-2-38-53-66-14, lelievregourmand.com)
Les becs à vin
Thanks to a cute logo and name, we stopped at a wonderful wine bar-resto that became our local haunt for the 5 days we were there. Cleverly named ‘Les becs à Vin,’ we sat down to one of the best lunches we ever tasted. Fresh organic cheeses, hams, fish…everything is natural, fresh and unpretentiously served. You feel like you’re in a friend’s home as delicious local wines at very reasonable prices are recommended and neighbours drop by during the day for a ‘verre.’ Be sure to say hello to owners, Bruno and Jerôme who are the nicest lcoals we met. It’s open every day except Monday. Le becs à Vin, http://www.becsavin.com/, 8 place de Chatelet.