Day Trips from Paris: Cinderella’s Fairytale at Château de Chaumont

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Day Trips from Paris: Cinderella’s Fairytale at Château de Chaumont
It might be slightly off the beaten track, but this majestic turreted château, hiding away in the secluded village of Chaumont-sur-Loire, is none other than the original inspiration for the iconic fairytale Cendrillon – or, in English, Cinderella. If, in the aftermath of the coronavirus, you’re seeking an escape from the crowds, Château de Chaumont promises to fit the bill. In fact, it’s one of the most under-rated day trips from Paris in existence. Just a short taxi ride from Onzain train station is the location that, in 1697, allegedly tempted fairytale author Charles Perrault to create Cinderella – an abused girl betrayed by her father and forced into drudgery at the hands of her wicked step-family. Here in the heart of the Loire Valley, he decided, was the location where she would languish, trapped and compelled to do menial tasks. After each long day, she would slump exhausted in front of the fireplace where, filthy from stoking the hot coals, she would fall into a deep sleep – before it all began again the next morning. It is not difficult to imagine why Perrault might choose this château as the backdrop for poor Cinderella’s fate. After all, little more than a century earlier, a real-life sadistic woman had reigned there – the cruel 1500s Queen Catherine de Medici. Scandals had swept through history, portraying her as a satanist who took part in black magic rituals and a serial killer who surreptitiously murdered her victims by lacing their perfumed gloves with poison. These haute couture fashion items could never be seen as innocuous while Medici was around. In fact, the ‘common-folk’ would even joke at their good fortune that they were not wealthy enough to buy them! Besides the rumors that she had attended a secret school to train in the art of mixing poisons, and the public distrust at her “occultist” interests in astrology and astronomy, she was also controversial for her ownership of a so-called “circus curiosity”, Petrus Gonsalvus. Suffering an unusual appearance due to the excessive hair growth condition hypertrichosis, he was kept like a caged animal and relentlessly abused. The ultimate cruelty, however, was allegedly dished out to her husband King Henri II’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers. The real love of his life, in stark contrast to the lack of affection in his cold and emotionless arranged marriage, she was never liked. After the King’s death in 1559, Medici attempted to banish her from Château de Chenonceau and annex her at Château de Chaumont, so that she could claim all the larger and more lavish châteaux in the region as exclusively her own. Diane de Poitiers proudly declined, opting instead for the less renowned Château d’Anet more than 100 miles away, and she only returned to Chaumont on rare occasions. Yet according to rumors, abuse towards Diane made her the real-life Cinderella who had set sparks flying in Perrault’s imagination – and while Château de Chaumont might have seemed the last choice at the time, favored by neither of the King’s ladies, today a trip here is absolutely unmissable. Visitors can explore the history of the infamously bloodthirsty Medici via a room bearing her name, with mermaids and warrior symbols built into the bed chamber. Others such as the Ruggieri room have tell-tale signs of Medici’s presence too – it was named after one of her favorite astrologers. Meanwhile the Greek letter Delta in a sign on the mantelpiece represents Diane’s initial and the moon symbols surrounding it are a nod to Diane the moon goddess in Roman mythology. These small touches in the decor reveal a lot about Diane’s psychology and her background knowledge of Greek and Latin. Plus in later years other royals resided here, such as the de Broglie family. Once an elephant roamed on the château’s grounds after it was gifted to Princess de Broglie by an Indian Maharaja in 1898. However the voraciously hungry beast apparently “ate her out of house and home” and had to be banished in disgrace to the Jardin des Plantes eight years later! Fortunately conditions there had improved since the time of the 1870 Paris siege though, when locals resorted to eating the animals kept at the zoo. Those staying in the area for their train journey from Gare d’Austerlitz to Gare d’Onzain to visit the château may wish to stop by at the Jardin des Plantes, perhaps the next day – it’s a mere two minute walk from Austerlitz. It goes without saying, of course, that there are no wild elephants on the loose there! Besides their eyebrow-raising ownership of exotic animals, the Broglie family was also apparently the first to add electric lamps to their stables when no other château in the region had such modern touches. However, it’s not exclusively history here. Château de Chaumont is also unique among all of the Loire Valley châteaux for its commitment to mixing ancient tradition with modern style. Dubbing itself a “living château”, it dedicates rooms here to the display of modern art and sculpture, with even the Bee Barn and Stables now utilized for the purpose. A new art season is presented each year – and the themes are by no means predictable or staid. For instance, Japanese creator Makoto Azuma presents a herbarium for 2020 “featuring real flowers coated with…

Lead photo credit : Château de Chaumont by Chloe Govan

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Chloe Govan is an award-winning writer and channel-hopping Francophile with a penchant for Parisian life. After achieving degrees in Psychology and Magazine Journalism and working as a travel editor and columnist, she developed her freelance career, during which she authored 11 books. Whether she is sleeping in a bubble under the stars in the forests around Marseille or horse-back riding with the chateaux of the Loire Valley as a backdrop, her heart can often be found somewhere in France.


  • Susanne Nehlsen
    2020-07-12 05:10:42
    Susanne Nehlsen
    A small referred to the swan-filled fake instead of swan-filled lake. Also. I visited the chateau in April a few years ago and I have to say that I was very touched by the gardens. In fact I think these gardens were my favorite in all that I saw in the Loire Valley. The shrub area had all white flowering shrubs. It was so impressive, peaceful and drew me in.