imageOn my one full day off from my job in Paris during July I took care of a trip that was on my bucket list – a visit to the Château de Chantilly. It was a hot, sunny day – perfect for an outing. I read that I could get there by the RER D line (the commuter rail that runs out to the Paris suburbs), but that was bad advice. It was a lot slower and then I had to change to a regional train to get all the way to Chantilly. For the trip back, I got a regional train that went directly from Chantilly to the Gare du Nord in less than half an hour for about 8 Euros.

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Once I got to the station, I opted to walk the rest of the way to the Château. I like to walk, and it was a great day. There were plenty of signs, so that part was easy. After about half an hour, I was at the stables where I bought my ticket. Chantilly is a big horse racing town and horses were a major part of life at the Château. I wasn’t there at the right moment for any of the dressage demonstrations or other horse-related events, but it’s always a pleasure to be around such beautiful animals. Then it was off to the Château.

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Architecturally, the Château is a bit of a hodge-podge, with two principal wings that are radically different from one another. The interior is dominated by a huge art gallery. The duc de Condé was a major art collector. The over 800 paintings in his collection include three Rembrandts and several other Louvre-quality paintings, including three small portraits by one of my personal favorites, Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun. Although it is no longer on display due to its fragility, the ultra-famous Les Très riches heures du duc de Berry are part of the holdings. Another very beautiful Book of Hours was a worthy stand-in.

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Besides the art, the highlight on the upper floor is the Grand Singerie, the room paneled with scenes where monkeys cavort dressed as though they are members of the nobility. It was learning about the recent restoration of these panels that had made me want to visit the Château de Chantilly in the first place. I also really enjoyed the chapel with its beautiful carved wood and stained glass. The library was stunning.

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After enjoying all the art, I went down a level to the private apartments. This small group tour was only a 3 Euro add-on to my ticket and totally worth it, although the guide was a little odd. She seemed totally blasé about what she was showing us and almost seemed miffed that we were taking her away from some passionately exciting duty elsewhere, but she thawed out a bit as the tour went on. I hadn’t realized that there was a second Petit Singerie that was painted at the same time as the larger one that was just for the family’s enjoyment. Totally cool.

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Then it was time to explore the garden. The formal parterres were designed by LeNôtre. There was also a hameau, or farm hamlet, like the one at Versailles. I hadn’t known that this was a fad for the aristocracy; I thought the one at Versailles was the only one. This Chantilly hameau was actually the inspiration for Marie Antoinette’s. Apparently, the interiors were off-the-hook glamorous, despite the rusticity of the exteriors. Today, they are the site of a tea room.

imageSince the tour of the apartments fell right when I would have eaten lunch, I was now rather famished, so the tea room was an interesting destination. They only thing on the menu, however, that reassembled actual food was a plate of raspberries with whipped cream. They were the most expensive raspberries I have ever eaten in my life (17 Euros!), but they were delicious. The word for whipped cream in French is Chantilly (shan-tea-ee), which is not a coincidence. According to legend, the French chef Vatel created whipped cream at a grand banquet when he was in charge of the kitchen at the Château de Chantilly. But the whipped cream at the tea room was like none I’d ever had before. When I saw the recipe in the shop portion of the tea room, I could see why. The proportion of heavy cream to sugar was almost one-to-one! Totally delicious, but wow!

image“Wow” is a good word overall for the Château de Chantilly. I only had one full day off during my summer job, and I’m so glad that I spent it right here.

About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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4 Responses to Chantilly

  1. Pingback: Chantilly |

  2. emswim says:

    It looks incredible! I am planning a trip to France and will definitely be putting this on my list. Thanks for the great post.

  3. Pingback: Un découvert | One quality, the finest.

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