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This is the third of nine posts about our visits to Loire chateaux this summer. Chaumont was distinctive for its annual International Garden Festival and a lovely lunch at Le Grand Velum which features spices, vegetable species, rare and relevant plants from eco-agriculture.
Less than 200 km south of Paris, nestling between the cities of Tours and Blois, is a haven of poetry stretching out 40 meters above the wild Loire, Whatever the season, Chaumont-sur-Loire, once the home of Catherine de Medici, Diane de Poitiers and Princess de Broglie, beckons visitors indoors to admire its cozy and lavishly furnished interior. Installations by an array of contemporary artists in the château and along the footpaths of the park catch you by surprise. Every year, more than 400,000 visitors flock to its International Garden Festival, held since 1992.
Our photos include the chateau itself with all its elegance and grandeur on the banks of the Loire, its fabled stables, its unusual eco-friendly restaurant, and, of course, the Garden Festival
Very often it’s not the grand vistas but the intricate details that are most remembered from our travels. Enjoy this array of exquisite bits of flotsam and jetsam from my travels in England and France.
From the flower market on Île de la Cité to Le Tour Eiffel peaking through the trees to the irises at a bed and breakfast in Amboise to pink tulips in the garden at Chenonceau and its wisteria covered cottage to a colorful array of tulips behind Notre Dame to touches of color at Villandry to the spring green of the cloisters at Mont Saint-Michel and, finally, to the sacred grounds of Normandy.
I have visited Chenonceau three times. The first time with my daughter in the dead of winter. I was doing my motherly “duty” and visiting her during her first year of living abroad in France. The program that was to help her find a job didn’t work out and she was on her own, finding both friends and employment. We spent over a week staying in three different chateaux and visiting many of the rest.
But Chenonceau always stuck in my mind with its graceful arched bridge spanning the River Cher. It was commissioned by Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of Henry II in 1555 who also oversaw the planting of extensive flower and vegetable gardens. Set along the banks of the river, but buttressed from flooding by stone terraces, the exquisite gardens were laid out in four triangles.
After King Henry II died in 1559, his strong-willed widow Catherine de’Medici and forced Diane to exchange it for the Château Chaumont and made Chenonceau her own favorite residence, adding a new series of gardens. Only is France will women complete over the same man with dueling gardens!
I have visited the magnificent 16th century Chateau of Chambord three times but my first visit was in November 1999 with my daughter, who was just into her first year of living in France after college. With the majority of tourists off to warmer climes, we often found ourselves alone in the 130 rooms open to visitors.
And, yes, we visited them all, reaching the various floors by walking up the double-helix marble staircase supposedly inspired by Leonardo da Vinci. I loved placing each foot in the shallow spots worn away by centuries of royal occupants climbing up and down as they plotted murders and bandied about with mistresses.
The roof top with all its minarets and spires is every bit as mysterious in person as it looks in photos. Author Henry James remarked that Chambord’s “towers, cupolas, the gables, the lanterns, the chimneys, look more like the spires of a city than the salient points of a single building.
Driving down the tree-lined avenue leading away from the chateau, a wild boar came out of the mists and stopped momentarily in the middle of the road ahead of us. How magical.
A later visit in 2009 brought the additional surprise of dozens of mannequins dressed in opera costumes posed throughout the interior.
Dubbed as “Alain Germain dresses the Chambord’s opera,” costumes from renowned couturiers, such as Franck Sorbier, Nathalie Germain, Pascal Bordet, and Olivier Bériot, were displayed within the castle. Breathtaking!