Situated between Tours and Orléans, the hillside city of Blois is just one hour’s train journey from Paris. Sitting proudly on the banks of the Loire, it has been declared one of the country’s prestigious Towns of Art and History and protected as one of the protected Historic Towns of France. It is tempting to head straight to the city’s famous castle, but walk over the iconic 18th-century Pont Jacques Gabriel and wander along the river – it is a great photo opportunity and allows you to see all the town’s monuments in context.
Awaiting you in a grand 19th-century bourgeois house in front of the Royal Castle of Blois, the bizarre House of Magic is the only one of its kind in Europe. An infamous six-headed dragon welcomes you to this strange house of curiosities. The five-floor exhibition takes you through the history of magic and the life and work of magician Robert-Houdin as well as plenty of fun optical illusions and magic performances. Beware, if you are visiting with children in tow, you may have trouble getting them to leave!
For lunch on a budget, check out one of the city’s many markets – the Saturday morning market is the biggest with over 100 stalls selling fresh produce. In winter, grab some of the great-value oysters and indulge in a hot chocolate as you take in the picturesque setting. For a more formal lunch, head to Au Rendez-vous des Pêcheurs. Housed in a former grocery store, it serves innovative and tasty dishes, such as baby pigeon on a bed of cabbage.
Au Rendez-vous des Pêcheurs, 27 Rue du Foix, 41000 Blois, France, +33 2 54 74 67 48
Okay… now you can check out the castle! The Royal Château of Blois‘ is just five minutes’ walk away. It has four wings have played home to no less than seven kings and 10 queens throughout its history. This important building is arguably the most famous in the city. It is also an architectural smorgasbord of styles from the Middle Ages to the 17th century. The castle’s courtyard displays everything from dramatic Gothic grandeur to Renaissance elegance and even Classicism. Take a tour of the flamboyant Royal Apartments and don’t miss the Fine Arts Museum. Blois train station is just an eight-minute walk away.
Orléans is one of the oldest cities in France and is just over an hour from Blois, by car or train. Joan of Arc famously saved the city from English siege in 1429. Today, as you stroll along the city’s leafy boulevards, you will see various tributes to the Maid of Orléans; from paintings and stained glass windows to striking statues.
A short 10 minutes’ walk from the station, sited on a former military base, FRAC Centre’s art museum combines contemporary art and experimental architecture from the 1950s to the present day. Expect to see thousands of paintings alongside hundreds of intricate architectural models. The building alone is pretty spectacular, too.
Place du Martroi is where you will see one of the city’s most iconic statues dating back to the 19th century; Joan of Arc on a bronze horse. As the evening kicks off, you can feel the square come to life, especially on market Friday! There are plenty of bars en route if you fancy an impromptu aperitif.
If you are lucky enough to visit the city on a Friday, then make the most of the night market which takes place beneath Joan of Arc’s watchful eye in Place du Martroi – it kicks off at 5 pm, so turn up hungry! Alternatively, La Parenthèse is just a five-minute walk away and offers sophisticated meaty dishes with tasty jus and sauces. The striking building dates back to 1597 and offers a cosy and convenient spot for dinner.
Just a 15-minute stroll from the restaurant, on the banks of the Loire, Empreinte Hôtel & Spa is a stylish boutique hotel with 31 guestrooms and one suite. It also has a cosy bar with a fantastic Champagne selection, if you fancy toasting a great day of sightseeing! If your tired feet need a treat, visit the hotel’s spa, sauna and hot tub.
Empreinte Hôtel & Spa, 80 Quai du Chatelet, Orleans, 45000, France, +33 2 38 75 10 52
If you’re not quite ready to call it a night, get your culture fix at the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Founded during the French Revolution, this popular museum has an impressive permanent collection of European works from the 15th to the 20th century. It also boasts one of France’s largest pastel collections – second only to The Louvre. Its painting collections showcase the likes of Paul Gauguin and Pablo Picasso.
Musée des Beaux-Arts d’Orléans, 1 Rue Fernand Rabier, Orléans, France, +33 238 79 21 83