Recently I took a trip following in the steps of France’s “sainted savior,” Joan of Arc, said Steve Hendrix in The Washington Post. The illiterate 17-year-old peasant inspired France during the Hundred Years’ War, and, centuries later, would become a feminist icon. My “Tour de Joan” followed the historic course of “that audacious French teenager” who led an army against the English, helped crown a king, and was ultimately burned at the stake. Today the fields of the Loire Valley make for a charming journey through the “countryside and cathedral towns” of northern France, from Joan’s birthplace in Lorraine to the embattled city of Orléans.
Joan’s story began in the “small and unassuming” town of Domrémy. The heroine’s farmhouse still sits along the banks of the Meuse River, next to the 14th-century church where she was baptized. The “remarkably intact” garden is where Joan first received divine guidance to seek out Charles VII and rescue her homeland from English rule. Today Domrémy seems an idyllic example of the “miraculously unchanging world of the French provinces.” As I walked around, the only sound was the “eternal hiss of the river and our footsteps along the aged pavement.” Soon it was on to the Château de Blois, a “fantastically preserved” mansion in the Loire Valley that overlooks a “cobblestone labyrinth” of streets. A few miles from there, in Chinon, Joan pleaded with Charles VII to authorize an attack in Orléans.
That cathedral town was the site of Joan’s “greatest escapade.” She rode at the head of the French forces, which defeated the English in May 1429. The feat is still celebrated each spring. A “massive equestrian statue, armored and short-haired, looms over the city’s main plaza,” blocks away from where Joan unleashed her troops. Our heroine’s story, as well as our trip, ended in Rouen. Though this is the “most touristy” stop, its sites are also the most somber: the tower where Joan was held captive by the English, “the cathedral annex where the inquisitors debated her destiny, and the towering cross that marks where she met her fiery fate on May 30, 1431.”