Heading into summer, our monthly feature, Three Hours or Less by Train from Paris, took us to the Loire Valley in the bucolic French countryside.
In June, we took the 95-minute train ride from Gare Austerlitz to Chateau de Chaumont-Sur-Loire, a 16th century Renaissance style chateau with sprawling gardens atop a hill overlooking the scenic Loire River.
One of the highlights of the summer and early fall season at the chateau is the annual International Garden Festival, now in its 27th year. Every year there’s a designated theme and for 2018 it’s Gardens of Thought, celebrating the written word. Thirty-two landscape designers were given a plot of land to create a garden design inspired by the current theme.
It was a temperate, breezy day and we walked through the winding pathways of the gardens, discovering the unique creativity by each landscape artist. American sculptor Dale Chihuly installed a stunning landscape by stacking aqua blue glass cubes on a serene pond, while Thought Bubbles by Giorgio Broccardo is a whimsical garden decorated with strands of colored yarn and clever touches such as hanging antique clocks and a shocking pink bathtub filled with plants. Two great French poets, Baudelaire and Rimbaud, were given special homage in the Le Jardin des Voyelles (The Garden of Vowels), where the consonants of a poem are spelled out in white iron letters against a green lawn, and the five vowels are replaced with various plant species.
Hungry for lunch after the garden visit, Chateau de Chaumont-Sur-Loire offered us a wide variety of restaurants and cafes to choose from. For a formal lunch set in an airy and elegant greenhouse, Le Grand Velum customizes its cuisine to complement the annual theme. At Le Comptoir Méditerranéen, seasonal dishes, such as pasta with homemade sauce, antipasti, and organic vegetable juice are served under the shade of Linden trees. Other food options include a tea salon with home-baked pastries, plus an indoor/outdoor coffee and sandwich bar, also serving artisanal ice cream. The chateau also has designated picnic grounds.
After lunch, we learned of a special occasion at Chateau de Chaumont-Sur-Loire, the tenth anniversary of Art Season, an annual art installation. Each year renowned, contemporary artists from around the world are commissioned to present their works in various parts of the chateau, including the apartments, the main building, horse stables, donkey barn, and water tower. In the attic and basement of the chateau, textile artist Sheila Hicks shows brilliant colored panels of fabric and skeins of yarn against the peeling paint and ruin of the rooms.
The sizable edifice housing the horse stables next to the chateau alternates the use of the stalls between a museum of ancient horse carriages, handsome saddles, and riding crops, and an art gallery. The standout art piece filling the main stable is En Plein Midi, a massive sphere made of brass leaves by artist Klaus Pinter.
Gardening aficionados can get their fill of seeds and plants, along with a wide range of gardening books at The Garden Boutique. Catalogs from previous Garden Festivals are also available plus a variety of scented candles, perfumes, and essential oils. The Chateau Boutique next door features books on the chateau and other chateaux in the Loire, in addition to children’s books, hobbies, and games.
After a full but satisfying day, we relaxed on canopied chaise lounges, taking in the expansive vista of the Loire River.
The 2018 edition of The Garden Show and Art Season runs until November 4 and is open every day. The chateau and gardens are open all year round.
To go to Chateau de Chaumont-Sur-Loire from Paris, take the train from Gare Austerlitz station to Onzain / Chaumont-sur-Loire station. It takes between one hour and 26 minutes and two hours and fifteen minutes. Until November 4, 2018, a shuttle service will be running between Onzain / Chaumont-sur-Loire station and the chateau, connecting with a train from and to Paris in the morning and in the late afternoon. Alternatively, it’s a 25-minute scenic walk along the Loire River from the station to the Chateau.