Off the beaten track in France: discover the Domaine de Chantilly
If I say Chantilly, you probably think of crème Chantilly. Although its origins remain unclear, the Mémoires of Marie Féodorovna (the Baroness of Oberkirch) attests that she was undoubtedly served this delicacy in 1784 as a guest of the Prince de Condé in Chantilly. But there is more to Chantilly than its celebrated crème.
After Compiègne, I invite you to continue your discovery of Picardy with Chantilly. Only 40 km north of Paris, this city, also known as an equestrian city. It is really a perfect day trip from Paris. Here are some of my highlights…
Chantilly: home of a princely castle
First and foremost, Chantilly’s castle, which used to belong to the Princes of Condé, is a must-see. Although its history dates back to the Middle-Ages, Henri d’Orléans, (the Duke of Aumale and son of the last King of France, Louis-Philippe), made the city what it is today by expanding the castle to display his many collections. With no descendant, he bequeathed the domain to the Institut de France on the condition that his collections would remain there unchanged.
Chantilly: home of Le Nôtre’s favorite garden
Numerous characteristics set this castle apart:-
- The castle is one of the few French castles that are fully furnished.
- You can tour both the lavishly furnished large suites, as well as the private suites.
- Moreover, the castle is also an art gallery, displaying the artwork collection of the Duke of Aumale.
His collection contains 800 masterpieces, which makes it the second largest collection of antique paintings after the Louvre. It includes paintings by Botticelli, Raphael, Poussin, Watteau and more.
- In addition to collecting artworks, the Duke was a passionate bibliophile – this is evident today in the reading room where many precious manuscripts are kept.
- Chantilly’s castle is called Domaine de Chantilly since its grounds extend across 7800 hectares of gardens and forest. The park offers an overview of the history of gardens. It includes a traditional French garden with a ‘Grand Canal’ and a waterfall designed by the master garden designer André Le Nôtre. It is said that this was Le Nôtre’s favorite garden.
- In addition to the French garden, the Prince Louis-Joseph de Bourbon-Condé added an Anglo-Chinese garden in the eighteenth century where a charming hameau or ‘hamlet’ is nestled. Remember Marie Antoinette’s hameau in Versailles where she used to pretend she was a shepherdess? The Hameau of Chantilly served as a model for it.
If you love walking, you should also take advantage of the beautiful forest of Chantilly by visiting, for example, the Etangs de Commelles.
If you love engineering, consider going to the Pavillon de Manse to learn more about the hydraulic system designed for the gardens of the Domaine de Chantilly.
Why is Chantilly renowned as an equestrian city?
After touring the castle and the gardens, the Domaine de Chantilly offers one more surprise: the Great Stables. It is highly unusual to visit the stables of a castle, but these are not called the Great Stables without good reason. They were built for Louis-Henri de Bourbon, the seventh prince of Condé. According to legend, he believed in reincarnation and thought he would become a horse in his next life. So he made sure that the stables would only be fit for a prince!
In addition to being an architectural masterpiece, the Great Stables offer a museum dedicated to horses and – best of all – equestrian shows. Watching one of these shows with my children remains a highlight of our visit. I cannot recommend them enough. The shows are a magical moment even if you don’t ride.
Being renowned as an equestrian city, Chantilly also boasts a hippodrome. Many races still take place there, including the famous and elegant Prix de Diane. Not far from Chantilly, you can also follow the steps of three celebrated French writers: Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Ermenonville, Gérard de Nerval in Chaalis and Jules Verne in Amiens.
I hope that you enjoy your day trip to Chantilly and, if you have the time, you continue discovering Picardy.
Have you ever been to Chantilly? What were your favorite places to explore? Share your experiences in the comments box; we’d love to hear from you.
1. ‘Castle’ via all-free-photos.com
2. ‘Gallery of the Battles’ via all-free-photos.com
3. ‘Les jardins et le parc, vus de ciel’, Pierre-Alain Bandinelli via Wikimedia
4. ‘Show jumping’, Westfale via Pixabay