The Historic Grounds

published at 02/01/2017

Chaumont’s grounds are a comparatively recent creation in the château’s long history. Up until the 1880s, the site bore little resemblance to its present layout.

Instead of the present grounds, the château looked out on a village made up of two hamlets (Les Places and Le Frédillet) comprising a total of 113 houses, the church and presbytery at the foot of the Saint Nicolas tower, and a cemetery located behind the hamlets.

A few lawns adorned with clumps of flowers and cut across by carriageways constituted the only real ornamental greenery that the château could lay claim to.

Nonetheless, a number of still existing features predate creation of the landscaped grounds. Part of the main driveway, planted with chestnut trees in the southeast of the grounds, as well as a linden-tree-lined walk on the château’s eastern flank are both left over from the 18th century, while a number of cedar trees still standing today were planted by the Count of Aramon, who owned the château between 1830 and 1847.

The landscape architect Henri Duchêne, transformed the site radically, creating an extensive “English-style” landscaped stretch of ornamental parkland. Work lasted from 1884 to 1888, costing some 560,000 gold francs in the money of the day. Completion of the project provided the château with the sumptuous setting it deserved and had previously lacked.

In 1884, in order to create the grounds, Prince Henri-Amédée de Broglie started buying up and demolishing all the buildings located in front of the château. He then financed construction of a new village alongside the Loire. The present church and its presbytery were built at the same time, designed by the architect Paul-Ernest Sanson. Even the cemetery was moved.

A system of curvilinear pathways forms a continuous walk with no lack of scenic views along the way. The so-called “ring” pathway makes its way around the perimeter of the grounds, helping visitors appreciate their full size. Secondary paths join up with it in a cunning interplay of tangents, ellipses and volutes extending the walk or leading to this or that feature of interest. Eight perspectives were created, five of them converging on the entrance to the château, with evergreens ensuring that their layouts and the shapes of the copses would be preserved in wintertime. The various tree species were chosen to create harmonious tableaux of colours, particularly in autumn. The cedar trees’ dark foliage makes a striking contrast with the light-coloured stone. The most remarkable trees were planted standing alone. Duchêne’s composition also made the utmost of the site’s existing assets, with cleverly managed perspectives incorporating the Loire and the extensive stretches of farmland and woodland that made up the Broglie estate.

Moreover, the grounds contain various constructions:

The reservoir (also known as the “water tower”) was built at the time the estate was acquired, before the arrival of the landscape architect Henri Duchêne. The architect later turned it to good advantage, surrounding it with a copse of trees and bushes. In those days, the water tower’s main purpose was to supply the main vegetable garden nearby via pumps installed in one of the village houses, drawing its water directly from the Loire. As metal tanks are no longer in use these days, a new reservoir (with water still pumped from the Loire) was built underground at the foot of the tower in 1987, located in a clearing created for the purpose.

The picturesque or “rustic” bridge crossing the ravine that separates the ornamental gardens from the “Goualoup” garden is the grounds’ most prominent manmade feature. In his initial plans for the grounds’ layout, Henri Duchêne envisaged a very different sort of bridge – a single-piece suspension bridge over the roadway and ravine. The princely couple finally rejected the idea and commissioned the architect to build the bridge we have today.

As she adored animals (dogs, monkeys, cats and donkeys in particular), Princess de Broglie wanted them to be buried close to her château when they died, and had a dog cemetery laid out for the purpose. The site selected was that of the former village cemetery, which had existed since 1788. When they acquired the estate in 1875, the Broglies negotiated the transfer of the municipal cemetery. The new cemetery was laid out between 1881 and 1883, in which year it was inaugurated, before startup of work on the grounds. Exhumation of bodies was carried out in 1893, and Princess de Broglie put the site to use as an animal cemetery the same year. The previously enclosed cemetery contained a score of graves, each with a flowerbox in front of it (eighteen in all have been inventoried). Divided up into three rows set in different parts of the copse, most of the graves still bear the epitaphs that Prince de Broglie had carved on them – heartfelt poems to the memory of her favourite pets.