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Orléans is most famous for its heroine, Joan of Arc, and her deliverance of the city in May 1429. This was the turning point in the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453), when Paris had been captured by the English and Orléans, as the key city in central France, was under siege. The legend says that Joan, a 17-year-old peasant girl in men’s clothing, had talked her way into meeting Charles, the heir to the French throne, and persuaded him to reconquer his kingdom. The reality may be a little different as it seems that Joan was in fact born of nobility. The myth may have coloured her actual achievements, but she was undeniably an important symbolic figure. Less than three years later she was captured in battle, tried as a heretic, and burnt at the stake. Today, the Maid of Orléans is an omnipresent feature, whether in museums, hotels or in the stained glass of the vast Neo-Gothic cathedral. One of the best times to visit is on May 8 (Joan of Arc Day) or the evening before, when the city is filled with parades, fireworks and a medieval fair.

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