If Paris features on your European summer itinerary, why not make a day trip to a fairy tale-perfect town nearby? The Picardy region of Northern France is easily accessible from Paris. Chantilly, the jewel in its crown is a mere 50 km from the French capital. It is an elegant old town, full of sandstone-coloured townhouses and surrounded by gardens and parkland. Here’s why you must visit Chantilly France.
The top reason to visit Chantilly France is, of course, to see Château de Chantilly. Set amidst landscaped gardens on the shores of an artificial lake, the castle is a storybook vision – sprawling pale yellow sandstone mansion with a slate-grey roof, turrets, and spires. The castle consists of two adjoining buildings. The Petit Château is the original (but restored) 16th-century part, while the 19th-century Grande Château or Château Neuf replaced the original castle that was destroyed during the French Revolution.
The Petit Château houses the Princes’ Suites. Here, you can get a glimpse into how the French royalty lived around the 18th and 19th centuries.
My favourite part is probably the Cabinet des Livres, which holds hundreds of manuscripts and books, including a Gutenberg Bible.
Also, don’t miss the vestibule leading up to the chapel. The long corridor is lined with original 16th-century stained glass windows depicting the story of Cupid and Psyche.
After admiring the castle, take a walk (or golf cart ride) in the surrounding parkland. You will stumble upon the Hameau de Chantilly, a collection of seven rustic cottages built in 1774. The thatch-roof cottages with French Tudor-style exterior hide richly decorated interiors. This sort of rustic village as a garden feature was quite popular in French landscaped gardens of that period.
The last owner of the castle was Henri d’Orleans (the Duke of Aumale), son of the last King of France, Louis-Philippe. The duke rebuilt the Grande Château in the Renaissance style that we see today. He was an art lover and amassed quite a rich and varied collection of paintings and sculptures. These are all on display in the Musée Condé in the castle itself. The museum has the second largest collection of antique paintings after the Louvre. There are some absolute gems by Raphael, Poussin, Botticelli, Titian, Van Dyck, and more.
If the museum seems arranged in a haphazard manner, it’s because the Duke had stipulated that the layout of the paintings must remain unchanged. So what you see is the original display from the 19th century!
The castle’s Grandes Écuries or Great Stables are quite spectacular as well. Louis-Henri de Bourbon, the seventh Prince of Condé built the stables between 1719 and 1740 to house the royal horses and hounds. Today, the building holds the Musée Vivant du Cheval or the Living Museum of the Horse.
Apart from the equestrian exhibits, there’s a short demonstration of dressage i.e. horses training for show performances.
Crème de la crème
There’s another delicious reason to visit Chantilly France and that is Crème Chantilly or Chantilly Cream. Quite simply, it is cream and sugar whipped together until thickened. It was invented at the Château de Chantilly where the Prince of Condé hosted frequent banquets.
You can get a first-hand demonstration of the cream whipping at La Capitainerie restaurant in the Château. An important test of correctly whipped Chantilly Cream is to turn the container upside down over your head. If you have beaten the cream properly, it should hold shape and not come pouring down on you!
A royal stay
Experience French hospitality in a royal setting at Hotel Auberge du Jeu de Paume, right next to Château de Chantilly. The Auberge is a modern 5-star hotel but in 18th-century style of French elegance. The rooms have exquisite toile prints, deep Louis XV armchairs, rich draperies, and chic furnishings. Some of the rooms overlook the castle gardens. The hotel’s signature spa treatment is Thousand & One Chantilly, which includes a relaxing massage and a decadent Chantilly Cream body mask.
So does this post make you want to visit Chantilly France? Leave us a comment below.
This feature was commissioned by Deccan Herald and a version of this was published in their edition of May 20, 2018. Read it here.