With its pale stone and sloping black roofs, Château de Chaumont rises above the the bald hill from which it derives its name (chauve mont meaning “bald hill”). Like most châteaux in the Loire Valley, the beautiful Chaumont was entangled in intrigue, revenge, and rivalries.
A Brief History
Château de Chaumont was initially built as a defense fortress during the 10th century by Eudes I, Count of Blois, to keep watch over the border between the counties of Blois and Anjou. In 1455, King Louis XI burned down the castle in retaliation for its owner’s involvement –Pierre of Amboise– in the anti-Royal revolt known as the ‘Ligue du bien public’. Château de Chaumont remained in the Amboise family for almost 500 years, but it was Charles I of Amboise –Pierre’s son– who rebuilt it and turned it into the beautifully ornate château that you see today.
In 1560 the estate was acquired by the notorious Catherine de Medici, shortly after the death of her husband, King Henry II. There she entertained many astrologers, like the famous Nostradamus and the sorcerer Ruggieri, her adviser on occultism.
Remember the feud between Catherine de Medici and her rival, Diane de Poitier? Catherine just couldn’t bear the thought that Henry gave the beautiful Château de Chenonceau –which she had wanted for herself– to his favorite mistress, Diane de Poitier. So after the King’s death, Catherine forced Diane to relinquish her favorite Château de Chenonceau and move at Chaumont.
Diane refused to live at Château de Chaumont. She only moved there for a short while after which she retired to the Château d’Anet, where she remained for the rest of her life. However, during the short time she lived tat Chaumont, Diane undertook a long series of alterations on the castle, like the walkway and the battlements on the gatehouse.
In 1750 Chaumont became the property of the French aristocrat Jaques-Donation Le Ray, who bought it as a vacation home. Le Ray lost it 40 years later to the newly formed Revolutionary Government in Paris.
In the second half of the nineteenth century Château de Chaumont was inherited by the wealthy heiress of a sugar tycoon – Marie Charlotte Say – who owned it till 1930. She enlarged and restored the castle, building the stables and the beautiful park around it.
Château de Chaumont is currently the property of the French government and was turned it into a museum.
Visiting the Château de Chaumont
Today, the château has three sides built around a central courtyard. However, the original construction had four sides. One was demolished in the 18th century by one of the castle owners, Monsieur Bertin, who wanted to have a better view of the Loire River.
The interior of the château is very spacious, with elegantly furnished rooms, beautiful tapestries and finely crafted floors. Among the rooms are those of Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers.
The château stables are set around two communicating courtyards – a larger one for the use of the owners and a smaller one for their guests. The Château stables are the best preserved in France and in their glory days were the most luxurious ones. There is a beautiful display of saddles and harnesses by Hermes in one of the stable rooms, as well as some old carriages.
The most enjoyable part of the castle seems to be the beautiful garden that surrounds it. For the past 24 years, Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire has been hosting the International Garden Festival every year. The festival promotes not only landscape designs, but also contemporary art exhibits on the theme of nature.
We visited the Château de Cahumont on a sun-filled October morning and found the grounds filled with mini pumpkins. Skewered and spiked into the ground, or swinging from the trees, there were pumpkins everywhere. The garden was a joyful celebration of autumn. The spectacular works of Klaus Pinter were also on display, like the “Golden Magnolias,” a giant transparent ball covered in copper flowers.
The particularly nice thing about Chaumont is that –unlike Château de Chambord, Chenonceaux, Azay-le-Rideau or Blois – it actually stands alongside the Loire River, which gives the castle an even more impressive look.