Chateau de Chantilly is somewhere I’ve had on my France bucket-list since I arrived here. With it being on the right side of Paris to me and only 40 minutes drive away from my house, last weekend when the sky was sunny (and when Chris was here) seemed like the perfect moment to go and see what this beautiful little town had to offer.
Alongside it’s impressive castle, Chantilly is also famous for its whipped cream, lace, porcelain and racecourse. In fact, when you drive into the town the sign reads ‘Welcome to Chantilly: Town of Horses’. It’s for this reason that it has been twinned with the racing town of Epsom in Surrey, England.
The castle itself was home to the princes of Condé – the cousins to the kings of France – and has been rebuilt a few times to co-incide with the French revolution among other things. The inside of the castle now houses the Musée de Condé, comprising of countless portraits of funny looking French people and a few decorative tea sets. I realise this summary is perhaps a bit amateur, but that’s all we managed to figure out without a guidebook!
There are also an awful lot of references to hunting – statues of dogs are all over the place outside (at first we thought the castle owner just really loved his pet chien), and the main dining room has various paintings of significant horse/dog related moments, as well as a long row of antlers around the cornice.
The grounds of Chateau de Chantilly are perhaps just as baffling (and beautiful) as the house itself. Terraces, fountains and woodland stretch out for an almost indefinite amount of space and there are lots of statues and ponds hidden around corners. There’s a supposed ‘English’ garden at one side (we spent a good 20 minutes trying to find it), a ‘Japanese’ style one to the other (if a rock garden and a few swans count as Oriental) and a few mock-Tudor houses containing a restaurant and a playground. I think in the summer these also play home to various theatrical productions too. We also stumbled across an inexplicable homage to the goddess Venus and several enormous vases alongside the ‘Grand Canal’ at the bottom of the park. C’est bizarre.
Almost half of the grounds are taken up by a large wooded area too. It all looks very British with the hoards of daffodils and woodland paths. According to one of the information signs, this area used to be taken over by the princes of Condé when entertaining guests. They used to set up mazes and giant games of snakes and ladders in which people would play the part of pawns and move around the life-sized board. I do sometimes wonder if I was born in the wrong century.
We had a lovely day walking around the Chateau in the sun and even finished it off with an ice cream sat on one of the castle walls. I definitely recommend you visit the place if you get the chance. Next time I attempt a similar ‘big day out’ however, I’ll remember to wear suncream and obtain a guidebook (or at least read up about the place on the internet) first….