Living the French royals’ life in the Loire Valley. Part one – Meanderings through France n° 154
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
No other French region has as many castles as the Loire Valley. During the Renaissance French royals and many aristocrats chose to live in this lovely area to enjoy its mild weather, its attractive landscapes and it vast forests teeming with game. With the end of the Hundred Years’ War old medieval fortresses were not needed anymore and were extensively updated, while new castles were built following Italian architectural trends. Today, whether turned into museum or into luxury hotels, many of them are waiting for you to get a glimpse at this long gone, yet enviable way of life.
Autumn is coming and, after a hot and dry summer, nature makes the most of the last warm weeks of the year to bloom and flourish. This might be the best time to visit the Loire Valley castles and their extraordinary gardens. Among the most beautiful ones, the Chaumont Castle’s gardens are absolutely unique. Since 1992 the International Garden Festival of Chaumont-sur-Loire invites landscapers, architects, urban planners and of course gardeners from the whole planet to create extraordinary gardens meant to renew and energize the art of gardening. An annual competition is held each year to select 25 to 30 new creations that will replace or come next to previous years’ gardens.
Each year a new theme is selected, this year’s one being “the concept of thought”. Although this theme is pretty abstract, it allowed many different professionals to work together and concretize this innovative concept. Gardeners were thus able to work with set designers, directors and even with an anthropologist, a geographer or a cabinetmaker. Altogether they were able to give a totally new insight of what our gardens could look like in a near future. Depending on the way you would like to develop your own garden, inspiration or perplexity might strike you.
Will you be moved by the radically contemporary “international Klein Blue Japanese meditation garden”, by the “Red Anamorphosis”, by the “sculptural book of sand”, by the “contemporary cloister decked out with feather flowers” or by a “delicate kokedama – mixing ikebana and bonsai in a true “kawai” style- representing your neurons… in a nutshell? Besides these 25 new gardens, famous guests have also been invited to be part of this year festival. Thus Pascal Garbe and Didier Willery known as “garden fanatics” will share with you their “claim to change the world with flowers”. Dale Chilhuly, the famous American glass sculptor or Bernard Lassus the prominent landscape artist also propose their vision of future gardens.
While in Chaumont, don’t miss to visit its castle and vast park. The castle was built in 1465 for the Amboise family on a hill overlooking the Loire River. Catherine de Medici bought it in 1550 and gave it to Diane de Poitiers ten years later.
The castle was restored in a typical Renaissance style in the 19th century for Marie-Charlotte de Broglie who threw great parties in the beautifully furnished rooms and the castle’s park. Today magnificent flowerbeds surround the castle that is open to the public as well as the extraordinary stables, a true horses’ palace!
For lunch, dinner or for a snack, there are no less than 6 restaurants, bars and tearoom on the estate. As it takes several hours to visit the castle, its park and the Garden Festival, they are more than welcomed. The festival will last until 4 November 2018. Book tickets and prepare your visit at: http://www.domaine-chaumont.fr/en
To make your “castle experience” in the Loire Valley complete, you should of course stay in a castle-hotel. The “Hauts de Loire Hotel” is only a few minutes drive from Chaumont Castle. Blois, Amboise, Chenonceau and Cheverny castles are also close by and the hotel is the perfect starting point to visit them all as well as the wonderful Loire vineyards. The “Hauts de Loire Hotel” is a member of the “Relais et Chateaux” luxury hotels. Set in a former 19th century hunting mansion hidden in a huge park it is a haven of peace at only 2 hours from Paris.
All the rooms and suites are big and nicely decorated in a chic country house style and many of them still have original wooden ceiling beams. The hotel has two restaurants, both managed by 2-Michelin-starred chef Rémy Giraud. He’s been the gastronomic restaurant’s chef of the “Hauts de Loire” for more than 30 years never stopping perfecting his know-how without losing his creativity.
In the menu you will find great classics of French cuisine reinvented with Remy Giraud’s touch. Vegetables picked in the hotel’s garden disclose all their aromas, fish and seafood meet citrus fruits or unusually cooked vegetables and legumes, meat including game are enhanced by mushrooms, herbs and spices. Not to forget the decadent desserts’ menu!
If “The Bistrot” cuisine is not as sophisticated as the one served in the gastronomic restaurant, it nevertheless as inventive and delicious and will be perfect for a lighter lunch or dinner. “Courgette soup with harissa sorbet”, “crispy lamb shanks with semolina couscous scorched with mint” and “Gianduja pastry puffs” are a few examples of the dishes concocted by Remy Giraud for the “Bistrot” menu.
The hotel also has an outdoor heated pool open year-round and a gym equipped with top-of-the-range machines for those who enjoy working out and sweating! The well-being area includes a sauna, a hammam and a spa managed by Clarins, the well-known high quality French cosmetic brand. In the skilled hands of the beautician you will experience a sheer moment of relaxation and serenity.
More about “Les Hauts-de-Loire Hotel”: www.hautsdeloire.com/en/
For more about the Loire Valley contact the Tourism Office of Tours Val de Loire: www.tours-tourism.co.uk/
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes