Chantilly and Surrounds
Within easy reach of both Paris and the ferry ports, just a short hop across the Channel, the sweeping forests of Chantilly, Ermenonville and Compiègne – and the cities, towns and villages they conceal – are a fabulous destination for both family adventures and romantic retreats.
Explore the fairytale Château de Chantilly with its royal apartments and its Musée de Condé; this art collection amassed by the Duc d’Aumale is second only to that of the Louvre. Roam the château’s glorious parkland with its woods, fountains, French parterre and English-style gardens, pausing for lunch in the ‘hamlet’ (Hameau) of half-timbered cottages, where local dishes includes desserts served with Chantilly cream.
Tour the Musée du Cheval within the estate’s magnificent former stables, tracing the history of the horse through human civilisation, as well as hosting spectacular horse shows. Get a blissful night’s sleep in the cosy La Canardière B&B in nearby Gouvieux, or in the luxurious Château de Montvillargenne with its gourmet restaurant and spa.
Get a different take on the rich history of Picardy, France and beyond with a day of fun at Parc Astérix east of Chantilly. Based mainly on the famous Goscinny and Uderzo stories, it also embraces historic cultures and as well as rides for all ages features brilliant themed shows. Its Hôtel des Trois Hiboux has nature-themed rooms overlooking the Ermenonville Forest.
If you’re not a themepark fan, venture to medieval Senlis in the Oise–Pays de France Regional Nature Park, with a Gothic cathedral and art and archaeology, military and hunting museums, and to the Cistercian Abbaye de Chaalis, with atmospheric ruins and a chapel with Primaticcio frescos. Les Rêveries dans la Théière B&B/tea-room in Ermenonville is a charming base for discovering this area.
Return to royal history in Compiégne with its palace first built for Louis XV, who loved hunting in the forest. The royal apartments include Empress Marie Louise's chamber with its view along the Percée des Beaux-Monts – an avenue created by Napoleon I to remind his wife of Vienna's Schönbrunn Palace. Amble Compiégne's cobbled streets and squares, pick up some picantins (grilled hazelnuts with nougat and chocolate) from a chocolate shop and lunch in Chez Célestine tea-room.
Head for the Château de Pierrefonds, spellbinding setting for the BBC’s Merlin. Bike paths from here take you into the heart of the Compiègne forest, while Le Nid dans l’Arbre offers the chance to spend a whole night in the woods, in treetop cabins designed for families or couples.