France // Champagne and the Ardennes //


Situated on a steep ridge between the Marne and Suize valleys, Chaumont (Chaumont-en-Bassigny, to give its full name), lies 93km southeast of Troyes. Approach by train to cross the town’s stupendous mid-nineteenth-century viaduct, which took an average of 2500 labourers working night and day two years to construct. It’s also possible to walk across the viaduct, which gives you fine views of the Suize valley.

The town’s most interesting historic building is the Basilique St-Jean-Baptiste. Though built with the same dour, grey stone of most Champagne churches, it has a wonderful Renaissance addition to the Gothic transept of balconies and turreted stairway, and a superb church organ. The decoration includes an Arbre de Jessé of the early sixteenth-century Troyes school, in which all the characters are sitting in the tree, dressed in the style of the day.

You shouldn’t leave without taking a look at Les Silos, a 1930s agricultural co-op transformed into a graphic arts centre and médiathèque. As well as hosting temporary exhibitions, it’s the main venue for Chaumont’s international poster festival (Festival de l’Affiche), which is held every year from mid-May to mid-June. As for the rest of the Old Town, there’s not much to do except admire the twelfth-century castle keep of the Comtes de Champagne, the delightfully named Tour d’Arse at the foot of the vieille ville – all that remains of the thirteen-century town gate – and the strange, bulging stair towers of the houses.

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