The Château of Chaumont-sur-Loire
The ancient château, originally built at the end of the 10th century, became notorious in the 16th century when it was acquired by Catherine de Medicis, widow of King Henri II in 1560. In a typical act of revenge against Henri’s favorite mistress and her arch rival, Diane de Poitiers, the owner, she forced Diane to give her Chenonceau, which Catherine and Diane greatly preferred, in exchange for Chaumont.
Don't be put off by the story; Chaumont is lovely. It’s a gracious, white stone building looking out over the Loire Valley. Powerful and still looking like a fortress on the west side, it has more Renaissance features on the other two fronts. Look out for the entwined ‘D’ of Diane de Poitiers, surrounded by bows and quivers, hunting horns, deltas and crescents of the moon representing Diana the Roman goddess of hunting.
The château had a pretty glorious existence, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries under the then owner, Le Ray de Chaumont, who turned the place into a social and intellectual center. Prominent figures flocked to the castle, including the 18th-century Italian sculptor Nini, who made beautiful terracotta medallions in the library, the writer Germaine de Stael, and Benjamin Franklin.
Later the Prince and Princess de Broglie added to the property, building magnificent stables in 1877 with all mod cons for the horses, including electricity installed in 1906. They also employed the landscape architect, Henri Duchene, to create the rolling park that you see today. The Prince brought the cachet; the Princess, daughter of a sugar baron, brought the cash.
What you see
Today you visit the bedrooms of the two great rivals Catherine de Medicis and Diane de Poitiers as well as the great salle du Conseil with its Spanish tiled floor. Don’t miss the room of Ruggieri where Catherine consulted the stars with her astrologer. This is where according to legend (there always have to be a few legends), she saw the destiny of her three sons, Francis II, Charles IX and Henri III and the rise of the Bourbon family who took over the kingdom with the accession of Henri IV.
After that it’s quite a relief to go down into the restored kitchens that fed the massive household and outside to the stables.
The park is huge, stretching around the château and further giving you great views over the River Loire. The park is dotted with various large-scale sculptures, including one which is in fact a huge wooden walkway offering a panoramic sight of the river.
A new 10-hecatre garden has extended the Domaine’s historic gardens. In this, the Prés du Goualoup, the first garden named Ermitage sur la Loire and created by the Chinese architect and garden specialist, Che Bing Chiu, is designed in the spirit of the Chinese garden. With the idea that it will evolve over the years with pavilions, trees and stones being added, it aims to take the visitor into the world of meditation of Chinese scholars. Others will follow, but this is a very long term project taking many years.
The International Festival of Gardens
This famous annual festival, always runs from April to October. If you’re at all interested in garden or garden design, don’t miss it. Together with the castle and the other gardens, a visit to Chaumont makes a great day out.
Eating at Chaumont
There are several restaurants within the grounds. The grandest, Le Grand Velum, is housed in a greenhouse-like structure. Three set menus offer inventive, beautifuylly presented dishes using seasonal ingredients. You shouldn’t neglect the desserts which include an all-chocolate cone on a biscuit base with cherry sauce, panna cotta and sorbet.
Le Comptoir Mediterranee (Mediterranean Bistro) offers freshly cooked dishes like pastas and home-made sauces.
L’Estaminet is the place for a light snack of sandwiches, and cakes as well as home-made sorbets.
Le Café du Parc is near the chateau and offers more light snacks.
Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 54 20 99 22
Château and Grounds daily 10am-6pm
Check here for admission prices.
Chaumont-sur-Loire is between Blois and Tours, 115 miles south west of Paris.
By car Take autoroute A10 and A86 and exit at Blois (junction 17) or Amboise (exit 18) then follow the signs to Chaumont which is on the D952.
By train Daily from Paris Gare d’Austerlitz on the Orleans – Tour line. Get out at Onzain then take a taxi from there.