“Arts & Elegance”: dream cars and princely setting in Chantilly – Meanderings through France
Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
This early September Sunday was a beautiful and sunny day at the Chantilly castle and the ideal time for admiring classic cars. Old-fashioned or futuristic, chauffeur-driven or racing cars they had all been spruced up by their owners to look as terrific as they could. For two years now this new car exhibition “Chantilly Arts & Elégance Richard Mille”restores the early 20th century tradition, mixing rare and unusual cars with Haute Couture. It might seem futile but it actually is fun and we had a good time admiring these old “Ladies” and their extravagant bodywork making most modern cars look alike and boring.
Did you know that the first pilot who drove the first car was a woman? In 1886 when Karl Benz built his tricycle, the first petrol-engined car, his wife Bertha decided to take her two sons on a 100 km long journey to visit their grandmother. She was the very first traveller to attempt such a trip. On her way she had to stop several times at chemist’s shops to buy… fuel! The tricycle needed a special fuel called ligroin that was only on sale in drugstores. Three days later Bertha came back home simply driving her unique vehicle. Can you imagine the expression of stupefaction on people’s faces watching this woman with two kids going through their villages on a car with no horse? What a wonderful publicity stunt! This tricycle was in Chantilly and hardly looks like a car with its small front wheel, its 2 big back wheels and its handlebars (the steering wheel had not been invented yet).
An imposing Rougier torpedo built in 1921 by Henri Rougier the man who won the first Monte Carlo rally in 1911, welcomed the visitors on the castle’s square and as we walked across the lawns of the park exceptional Bugattis, Alfa Romeos, Bentleys, Ferraris, Porsches, Talbots, Aston Martins… proudly paraded along the paths. If cars could speak I guess they would say how good it feels to be outdoor admired by hundreds of visitors instead of asking for a little attention in a museum or in a private collection.
Many auto clubs attended the event and dozens of car enthusiasts drove their own Rolls Royce, Citroen DS, Ferrari, Bugatti… They all gathered for a huge picnic along with the visitors spreading blankets in every corner of the park. A perfect day in the country!
Horsepower were not the only ones to be honoured and as always in Chantilly living horses were part of the show. Mario Luraschi who was involved in dozens of movies to direct equestrian scenes such as The White Queen, Bandidas, d’Artagnan… put on a show recreating the joust between French king François I and Henry VIII of England on the “Field of the Cloth of Gold” in 1520.
All day long classic boats took visitors for a trip on the castle’s canal. A 19th century steamer that came all the way from Lake Geneva transported by road in a special convoy was very successful. And anyone who wished to reach for the sky was able to get onboard a balloon in tethered flight thus getting a great view of the castle, the park and all the cars.
While autumn repaints the Chantilly Forest with vivid gold, red, ochre and purple, a sunny October will be a great time to discover the Chantilly area. The 4-star Dolce Chantilly Hotel is the ideal starting point to visit Chantilly and Senlis, two towns with a rich historical heritage. Built between two rivers in a huge park hidden in the middle of the forest the hotel has its own private golf course. The helpful staff can arrange many activities for you: horse riding, visits to the close by Polo Club, to the famous Chantilly racecourse or to the “Musée du Cheval”, the Horse Museum that has recently been extended and renovated. No less than 8 golf courses await golf players and the hotel proposes different packages including green fees to different local golf courses.
What about a romantic getaway in Chantilly with your lover? The “Dolce Romantic Escape” is made for you, for 99 euro each you’ll get a one night stay, a bottle of Champagne and chocolates in your room, a big buffet breakfast (with a gluten free corner) and free access to the two heated swimming pools, sauna, Turkish bath and a fitness room where the hotel coach will make you sweat!
Staying at the Dolce also is a gourmet experience and a truly good one. After a Champagne Mojito or any other drink in the cosy bar to the sound of live piano music you can have dinner at the Donatello and get the opportunity to taste an entrecote with porcini, lamb loin with Soissons beans, a chocolate trio with apricots and pistachios… If you don’t feel like having a whole bottle of wine you can have wine by the glass, which is not unusual, but here they serve it from magnum bottles, a rarity although it’s common knowledge that wine taste much better when aging in this larger bottle. So enjoy it!
The hotel is only a 45 minutes drive from Paris or 25 minutes from Charles de Gaulle Airport. Whether for a couple, a family or with friends the Dolce proposes several offers with a very good value for money. And if there were only one good reason to go to Chantilly, the “ Journées des Plantes de Courson” a plants exhibition where horticulturalists from the all world show their latest creations, would be a very good one. On 16, 17 and 18 October the castle and its park are turned into a beautiful botanical garden and it’s hard to resist going back home without a new baby plant.
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Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny