French escapades – The hidden treasures of Picardie
When you have tired of those famous Parisian lights, take a trip to Picardie, where the lights are dim enough to see the stars, but by no means less spectacular. Located just twenty-five minutes by train from Paris, the sweet locales of Gouvieux and Chantilly, in the heart of the Picardie region offer city-weary folk a change of scenery and pace.
Chantilly is the equestrian capital of France, each year hosting the renowned ‘Prix de Diane’ which attracts horse racing elite from all over the world. The hippodrome (race track) is connected to the grand stables, which showcases the town’s history in horse racing and offers frequent performances of the equestrian art.
A photogenic French castle
But by far the most impressive part of Chantilly is the imposing bastion that lies just outside the city walls. The Chateau de Chantilly offers visitors hours of exploration and is a photographer’s dream; perfectly photogenic in rain, shine and snowfall. Be sure to allow plenty of time for your regal visit.
A day alone could be spent navigating the expansive grounds, which include water features to rival Versailles, and no less than four themed gardens. Then there is the castle itself, which houses the largest collection of ancient paintings after the Louvre, and architecture that will run away with your breath.
When you’ve seen all the sights that Chantilly has to offer, and indulged in a hot chocolate topped with its namesake cream – it is time to venture into the valley of Gouvieux.
A château-cum-hotel in the French countryside
At the crest of the valley, venture left and discover another of the region’s hidden treasures – Chateau Montvillargenne. Though this castle is now a hotel, and unlike Chateau de Chantilly, not open to the public, it is worth a peek, if only for the enchanted exterior alone.
Better yet, why not treat yourself to a night or two at the four-star chateau-cum-hotel? The building is rich in history – beginning as a castle and later used as the headquarters for German troops during World War II. It was then destroyed by Allied bombing, and restored many times over to become the mecca of rest and relaxation that it is now.
A favourite venue for weddings, the castle overlooks the picturesque Gouvieux valley, and is situated on fifteen acres of parkland, nestled into the never-ending green of the Chantilly Forest.
Tea time in Picardie
If you are simply day-tripping to Picardie and can’t stay the night, your getaway would not be complete without a visit to La Joyeuse Théière, the delightfully cheery salon de thé in Gouvieux. Owners Sylvie and Gerard could not be warmer if they tried, and will educate you in the way of tea until you begin to regard tea as if it were a finely aged wine.
The carefully decorated menus offer tea from every region, pickled in every spice that your taste buds could crave, and Sylvie prepares it with precision so that it tastes just right. Be sure to accompany your tea with some of her homemade delicacies, and do not leave without a bag full of the fine spices and preserves that she stocks.
Where is your favourite place to daytrip in France? Share your adventures below…References:
1. Domaine de Chantilly
2. Chateau de Montvillargenne Image credits:
1. Château de Chantilly, via Wikimedia.
2. Grandes écuries de Chantilly, by Guillaume Cattiaux via Flickr.
3. Chateau de Chantilly, by ebs1123 via Flickr.
4. Château de Montvillargenne, by jlastras via Flickr.
5. La Joyeuse Théière, courtesy of Amy Womersley.