One of the things that I absolutely love about living in France is how much there is to see and I feel like I will never be able to see all of it! This weekend I visited Chantilly, a small little town north of Paris (about a 25-minute train ride from Gare du Nord). It is known for its beautiful château but also for the delicious topping known as whipped cream. In French, whipped cream is called chantilly, just like the town.
Leaving Paris for the weekend is a nice way to get a break from the city. For all the pomp that Versailles gets, I wish that Chantilly was better known by people coming to visit France.
A quick history
The Château de Chantilly was reconstructed by Henri d’Orléans, duc d’Aumale (1822-1897) in the XIXe century. He was the son of King Louis-Philippe, the last king of France. He inherited the property in 1830. Today, it is not in its original form but is a homage to the multiple people who influenced the property.
The château was a medieval fortress and was modernized in the XVe century when the Montmorency family took over its possessions. It belonged to Louis XIV cousin, Louis II de Bourbon-Condé, better known as le Grand Condé, who has a paradoxical place in French history having allied himself with the Spanish during la Fronde (a series of French civil wars in the midst of the Franco-Spanish War which began in 1635). He was later pardoned with the signing of the Treaty of Pyrenées and regained his titles. The château lived its best days under his residency. Its gardens were designed by none other than André le Nôtre, the same man who designed the gardens of Versailles. The château became a center of intellectual conversation and somewhere to share a passion for the arts. Chantilly welcomed many great painters and writers such as Madame de la Fayette, La Fontaine and even Molière. Le Grand Condé, like his cousin Louis XIV, loved to have fun and hosted multiple dances and firework shows.
During the French Revolution, the château served as a prison before being destroyed. Its artwork and manuscripts were transferred to the Louvre. Half of the park was destroyed, and what we visit today is not in its original form of grandeur it used to be.
Lunch and a Château
We started off our day at La Prego, an Italian restaurant a twenty-minute walk from the station Chantilly-Gouvieux. During the summers, I work as program assistant for a study abroad program. It has been something I have been doing for the past few summers, and each time we do this outing to Chantilly, we stop at this restaurant.
Afterward, we went to visit the Hippodrome (the racecourse). Chantilly, besides being known for the château and whipped cream, is also where the Prix du Jockey Club is hosted. Think the Kentucky Derby but à la française. Horses are a big theme of the region, and in the barn at the château, there are concerts that are held due to how good the acoustics are. Yes, concerts are held even though the horses are there (imagine Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 while horses are neighing in the background).
You can visit the public space of the château, like the offices and the war room. There is a big room with multiple paintings of battles fought by le Grand Conté, which are so detailed. Chantilly is also home to many pieces of art that you would imagine being at the Louvre, like the portrait of Louis XIV or Pierre Mignard’s Portrait of Molière. The library as well is breathtaking, housing multiple original manuscripts and printed volumes from the medieval period onward. Historians often go to Chantilly for their research.
A Walk in the Park
Not only is Chantilly known for its horse races, but it is also known for the Concours d’Etat, a car show. It displays redone, old-fashioned cars and the show takes place in the gardens. The day we went, they were setting up for the show which would take place on Sunday.
After visiting the museums, we decided to take a walk in the woods that are behind the castle and go search for our chantilly. Mind you, France has been going through a heatwave for the past week and the day we went was the hottest day. It was still worth it.
There is a restaurant about a ten-minute walk from the château that I recommend, called Le Hameau. That is where you can have a drink and try actual, fresh-made whipped cream while sitting in the shade after a long day of walking. You can have just a glass of whipped cream (YUM) or even add strawberries (extra delicious). It honestly tastes nothing like the canned version. It is a lot heavier but it is the best whipped cream I have ever had in my life. I wanted to take some home with me and have it with my morning pancakes (on the rare occasion I make brunch).
So, as I said, I wish a lot of tourists knew about Chantilly and tried getting out there. It is not far from Paris and it is worth the trip. Just look at how beautiful and magical it looks. It’s not Versailles… but it still lives up to be its competitor.
Bisous, besos, xoxo,
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