Château de Chantilly: Once upon a time there was a Great Man…

FRANCE   Oise-60, Chateau de ChantillyAlthough it was originally built as a medieval fortress with 7 towers and surrounded by deep moats protecting the road from Paris to Senlis, the castle of Chantilly as we know it today is the work of one man: Henri d’Orléans Duc d’Aumale. This remarkable man was the last but one son of the French king Louis-Philippe 1st who ruled France from 1830 until 1848. He had a vision about the castle that had been almost completely destroyed during the French Revolution. But after his father was removed from the throne in 1848 he was forced to go into exile and lived in Twickenham not far from London from 1848 until 1870 when he finally came back to Chantilly. FRANCE   Oise-60, Chateau de ChantillyHaving lost his wife and his two sons he dedicated his life to the rebuilding of the castle. Immensely rich he accumulated collections of paintings, books, archives, furniture, objets d’art, trying and succeeding to achieve “a complete monument of French Art and History” as he himself described it in his will. He died in 1897 without any lineal heir and bequeathed the Chantilly estate to the “Institut de France” an academic institution that rules many French foundations destined to protect French Heritage.

FRANCE   Oise-60, Chateau de ChantillyIn his will Henri d’Orléans demanded that the castle should be converted into a museum open to anyone fond of art and history. So why not follow his advice?

Chantilly is only 50 km far from Paris. It is a nice drive through the country and nearing the castle you will go through the magnificent Chantilly forest where the aristocracy used to go hunting.

FRANCE   Oise-60, Chateau de ChantillyYou can start your visit with a stroll in the gardens. The “French Garden” was designed by André Le Notre in 1671 even before creating his most famous work: the gardens of Versailles Castle. In Chantilly he created a Grand Canal, paths, artificial waterfalls and flowerbeds spreading at the foot of the castle.

FRANCE   Oise-60, Chateau de ChantillyAt the western end of the Grand Canal is the “English Garden”. It’s lovely to walk along the small river winding between the tall trees, where swans and other water birds live. At the eastern end a hamlet was built at the end of the 18th century. Those hamlets were very popular at that time, the most famous one being the one built for Marie-Antoinette in Versailles. There are 5 little houses looking quite rustic from the outside but they were luxuriously decorated to welcome parties and candlelit diners. The hamlet is surrounded by a peaceful anglo-chinese garden.

FRANCE   Oise-60, Chateau de ChantillyFrom the gardens monumental stairs will lead you to the castle and the museum with its unique collections. No other French museum displays 3 paintings by Raphael, 3 by Fra Angelico, 4 by Watteau, 4 by Greuze, 5 by Poussin, 5 by Ingres, 3 by Delacroix…There are also drawings by Raphael, Parmesan, Leonardo da Vinci…All these pieces of art are still at the same place where Henri d’Orléans wanted them to be and the walls are actually covered by paintings. Don’t miss the private apartments especially the “Grande Singerie” a small boudoir which walls are painted with monkeys dressed in 18th century costumes and Chinese costumes. It was recently restored and looks beautiful.
FRANCE   Oise-60, Chateau de ChantillyAt a short distance from the castle you will get to the “Grandes Ecuries”, the Great Stables. They fortunately outlived the French Revolution and are much more than mere stables. They are a truly palace designed for the comfort of the horses. Nowadays you will find there the “Musée du Cheval”: the Horse Museum and an Equestrian Show. FRANCE   Oise-60, MusŽe du ChevalThis year show is called Kavallisté, a mix of polyphonic songs from Corsica and horse dancing. It will take place from April 6th until October 26th 2014.

Your knowledge of Chantilly wouldn’t be complete without the “crème Chantilly”. FRANCE   Oise-60, Chateau de ChantillyThe legend tells that this famous whipped cream was created when Louis XIV came to Chantilly by Vatel the great chef of that time. The recipe is not a secret anymore: you need 50cl of fresh cream, 40g of icing sugar and a drop of vanilla extract. All the ingredients must be very cold. Whisk them all together until the cream gets thick and frothy. It is absolutely delicious with strawberries or raspberries.
You will be able to taste it in any of the restaurants of the estate:
La Capitainerie: this restaurant is located right inside the castle. You can have lunch under the vault of Vatel’s kitchen or on the outside terrace in the summer.
FRANCE   Oise-60, MusŽe du ChevalThe Restaurant du Parc is set inside the mill of the hamlet and is the perfect place for a high tea.
The Auberge du Jeu de Paume is a high-class hotel with a gastronomic restaurant.

The castle is open everyday except on Tuesday from 10am till 18 pm. The gardens are open until 8 pm.

More information and online booking :

FRANCE   Oise-60, Chateau de Chantilly FRANCE   Oise-60, MusŽe du Cheval
FRANCE   Oise-60, MusŽe du Cheval FRANCE   Oise-60, MusŽe du Cheval FRANCE   Oise-60, Chateau de Chantilly

Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny


About Annick Dournes & Frederic De Poligny

Annick Dournes and Frederic de Poligny are two French tourism journalists who travel the world for many years. They will share with you their very favourite experiences of worldwide travels. Those about France, their native country, will be found on a regular basis in their chronicle “Meanderings through France”. Web