The chic village of Chantilly (not just famous for its unctuous cream!), just north of Paris, is drenched in heritage, has great food and wine and abundant natural beauty – it’s a perfect place to experience the French ‘art de vivre’.
The Château de Chantilly/Musée de Condé is the big-hitter here, with its spectacular display of art amassed by the Duc d’Aumale, son of France’s last king Louis-Philippe – a pre-Impressionist collection second in France only to that of the Louvre.
The château’s grounds positively invite romantic strolls. Within them lie a ‘hamlet’ (Le Hameau) of half-timbered cottages, one with a cosy restaurant serving local produce indoors or out on its lawn – desserts come layered with unctuous Chantilly cream.
Audio-guides take you through the art collection, the apartments of the Princes of Bourbon-Condé with their lavish decorations and furniture, some brought from Versailles, and the atmospheric double chapel. To truly feel the spirit of the place, however, book a place on a tour of the Duc and Duchesse’s private apartments, which show the human side of life in the castle. They include the couple’s bathrooms, with the original tubs, plus the room in which the Duc spent his last days, surrounded by photos of his deceased wife and children.
There are also fountains, a Le Nôtre parterre with statuary, English-style gardens and beehives. Interesting structures include the poetic Maison de Sylvie, once a refuge for the Duchess of Montmorency, a temple of Venus, and the Ile d’Amour or ‘island of love’ with a smaller Venus.
In the château’s magnificent former stables with their views over Chantilly’s racecourse, the Musée du Cheval is compelling even for those not interested in horses, with displays on horses throughout civilisation plus spectacular equestrian shows. Why not discover the chateau by horseback?