Chaumont was originally called Calvus Mons, or Bald Mountain, and sits on the edge of a plateau where the Marne and Suize rivers come together in the upper Marne valley. Chaumont is built around a 10th century castle. It was first a stronghold for the counts of Bassigny, and later became the residence of the counts of Champagne until 1329, when the French crown took it. The alliance between Britain, Austria, Russia, and Prussia promising to push on with the Napoleonic War until they were victorious was signed here.
Today, Chaumont is known as a glovemaking and shoemaking center, not as a political center, but its brilliant past includes many shining moments in history.
Places of interest
The Church of St-Jean-Baptiste, built between the 13th and 16th centuries, is a lovely place not to be missed by the serious tourist. Also called the Basilique St-Jean, it's built in the gray stone typical of Champagne religious houses, and its complex design includes turreted stairways, high vaulted ceilings and an Arbre de Jesse with characters dressed in Renaissance-period Champagne clothing.
The Palais de Justice and medieval castle keep left over from the days of the counts of Champagne are quite lovely as well. Renaissance-period townhouses with high towers and spiral staircases are frequently seen as you walk through the streets.
A nearby town to look for is Colombey-les-Deux, birthplace of Charles de Gaulle. If you visit, make certain you don't miss La Boisserie, a museum dedicated to General de Gaulle's life and work.
La Chapelle des Jesuites Chaumont, is an enormous chapel built in the early 17th century, and is a perfect example of Jesuit architecture. An earlier construction is Le Viaduc Chaumont, a viaduct over a quarter mile long and as wide as a half a football field.
Les Silos is an interesting place, a former farming co-op transformed into a graphics art exhibit area. Every June, you'll find their annual international poster competition, the Festival de l'Affiche, on display here.
Where to stay
The Hotel Terminus Reine is not built in a venerable building nor is it an incredible experience, but it is one of the best hotels in Chaumont. Located near the train station, it offers some very nice amenities like childcare, pretty balconies, and high-speed internet access. And it's priced very reasonably. The hotel restaurant, La Chaufferie, is excellent, convenient, and reasonably priced as well.
Unless you're here for a very quiet stay, you'll probably not be interested in staying here long; there's not much to do beyond the few museums and looking around the area. It does, however, make a great break when traveling between two more intense cities. There are also a few nice hikes and picnicking areas around Chaumont.