200km (124 miles) SW of Paris; 40km (25 miles) E of Tours
The connections of this lesser-visited castle to Diane de Poitiers make it an excellent château to pair with a visit to the Château de Chenonceau. It is also a wonderful stop for garden enthusiasts.
On the morning when Diane de Poitiers first crossed the drawbridge, the Château de Chaumont (tel. 02-54-20-99-22; www.chaumont-jardin.com) looked grim. Henri II, her lover, had recently died. The king had given her Chenonceau, but his angry widow, Catherine de Médicis, forced her to trade her favorite château for Chaumont, with its battlements and pepper-pot turrets. Inside, portraits reveal that Diane deserved her reputation as forever beautiful. Another portrait -- of Catherine looking like a devout nun -- invites unfavorable comparisons.
Charles d'Amboise built Chaumont (Burning Mount) during the reign of Louis XII. Overlooking the Loire, it's approached by a long walk up from the village through a tree-studded park. The castle spans the period between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and its prize exhibit is a collection of medallions by the Italian artist Nini. A guest of the château, he made medallion portraits of kings, queens, nobles, and dignitaries -- including Benjamin Franklin, who once visited. In the bedroom occupied by Catherine de Médicis, you can see a portrait of the Italian-born queen. The superstitious Catherine housed her astrologer, Cosimo Ruggieri, in one of the tower rooms (a portrait of him remains). He reportedly foretold the disasters awaiting her sons. In Ruggieri's room, a tapestry depicts Medusa with a flying horse escaping from her head.
[tel] 02-54-51-26-26. www.domaine-chaumont.fr. Admission is 10.50€ adults, 6.50€ children 12–18, 4€ children 6–11, and free ages 5 and under. Full pass including the festival 16€ adults, 11€ children 12–18, 5:50€ children 6–11, and free 5 and under. Open daily Nov–Mar 10am–5pm; April–June 10am–6:30pm; July–Aug 10am–7pm; Sept 10am–6:30pm; and Oct 10am–6pm.