Chantilly (prounounced: Shaunh-tee-yee) is known for many things: its fine lace, pretty porcelain, whipped cream, palatial château and thoroughbred racetrack. No matter which takes your fancy, the castle and its namesake town are an easy day trip from Paris. Let’s take a closer look!
Table of contents
- History and significance of Chantilly
- Things to do and see in Chantilly
- More things to do in Chantilly
- Planning a day trip to Chantilly
- Last tips for your Chantilly day trip
History and significance of Chantilly
The town of Chantilly is thought to have derived its name from the Cantilius, a Gallo-Roman who established a stronghold there about two-thousand years ago. Much of its notable history is intrinsically linked with its famous Domaine de Chantilly (Domain of Chantilly)—a term referring to the combined Château de Chantilly, its grounds, and the Grand Stables. Together they cover more than 7800 hectares (over 19,000 acres). Let’s step through some key moments in the Domaine’s history and evolution, that correspond with its must-visit sights.
Things to do and see in Chantilly
Château de Chantilly evolved over several centuries, under the ownership of various dynasties. The first incarnation of was built during the Medieval Period. The fortress was constructed on a rocky island in marshland around the Nonette River. Throughout its history, the château was bought and sold; pillaged and restocked; deconstructed and rebuilt; confiscated and returned; refurbished and extended. The Château we see today is the 16th-century Petit Château and the 19th-century Renaissance-style, Grand Château.
By 1643 the Château was in the hands of the Bourbon-Condé family—cousins of French Kings. Prince Louis II aka “The Great Condé”, commissioned Les Tuileries head gardener, André Le Notre, to design the formal gardens of Château de Chantilly. Like Le Notre’s later projects, Vaux-Le-Vicomte and Versailles, Chantilly’s garden was the setting for many opulent parties and firework displays. Later additions to the gardens include the Anglo-Chinese Garden, Hamlet and English Garden.
All things equine
The princes of Condé were equine enthusiasts, especially when it came to hunting. Louis-Henri de Bourbon, commissioned a palace for his precious steads in the early 18th-century. The Grandes Écuries (Grand Stables) were built to house more than 240 horses and 400 hounds.
In 1834, a challenge between guests of the castle led to an impromptu horse race. This soon resulted in the construction of a racecourse alongside the Stables and Chantilly has been associated with horseracing ever since. Within the spectacular Grand Stables, a sight in and of themselves, you can view daily equestrian displays plus explore the Living Museum of the Horse.
The same Prince of Condé who commissioned the Grand Stables, also funded the creation of a porcelain workshop in Domaine de Chantilly. Louis-Henri was a passionate collector of East Asian porcelain, particularly Japanese Kakiemon designs. Between 1730 and 1800, the Chantilly factory produced soft-paste porcelains, mimicking those he admired from Japan and China. Once the Prince passed away, motifs gradually became more European. Unfortunately, the factory was closed in 1800.
The Château’s 18th-century Hameau (hamlet) is a faux rural village in the gardens, one that inspired Marie-Antoinette’s hamlet at Versailles. Today it is the spot to sample Crème Chantilly (Chantilly cream)—a dessert accompaniment consisting of cream whipped with vanilla and sugar. Though whipped cream was not new at this point in history, it was placed on the map by the Baroness of Oberkirch after she dined at the Château. Besides Le Hameau, you can find Crème Chantilly on the menu at various patisseries and cafes around the town of Chantilly.
Art & antique literary gems
The Château’s last private owner was the Duke of Aumale (and son of France’s last King), Henri d’Orléans. Unfortunately for Henri, his father was forced to abdicate during the 1848 Revolution and they both had to skedaddle to the UK. The former king died in exile, but 20-years later, Henri would return to France and Chantilly.
The Grand Château had been deconstructed and its materials sold off during the Revolution. D’Orlêans rebuilt the castle to house the fine art, rare books and manuscripts he collected while in exile. Henri then bequeathed the estate to the Institut de France under the condition that the Condé Museum be opened to the public, posthumously. He also stipulated that the layout he designed would be maintained, and that the collections wouldn’t be lent out. So, seeing the art and artifacts of Musée Condé is an experience completely unique to Chantilly.
Among the artworks in Musée Condé are paintings by Botticelli, Raphael, Fouquet and Delacroix. The Cabinet des Livres (Reading Room) holds over 1500 manuscripts and more than 17,500 printed volumes. These include 300 medieval manuscripts. Don’t miss a walk through the Reading Room at the core of Musée Condé.
More things to do in Chantilly
All of the above is going to take a big chunk of your day. But if for some reason you find yourself at a loose end, here are a few more suggestions:
Le Potager des Princes
A park and national historic monument located just a stone’s throw from on of Chantilly’s main streets. Set on the grounds of a former pheasantry, established by the La Grand Condé in 1682, the original park was designed by André Le Nôtre and after many changes was rehabilitated and reopened to the public in 2002.
Musée de la Dentelle de Chantilly
Fashion and textile-lovers might enjoy a look into the small Chantilly Lace Museum. Lace has been produced in Chantilly since the 17th-century and became known for its bobbin lace with fine ground and intricate, outlined designs. The Museum has limited opening hours and guided tours are only on scheduled dates, so check the website when planning your visit.
Planning a day trip to Chantilly
You will need at least a half day to see the Domaine de Chantilly, alone. Though Chantilly isn’t nearly as well-known or crowded as Versailles, plan to arrive at the Château first thing when it opens or after lunch. The grounds are generally open a touch longer than the Château, so if visiting later in the day, ensure you explore indoors first.
How to get to Chantilly from Paris
Just 55-kilometers (35-miles) north of the French capital, Domain de Chantilly lies in the Nonette River Valley. The location is within the region historically known as Picardy, and now known as Hauts-de-France—you might see reference to both.
You can drive 20-30-mins to Domaine de Chantilly. Alternatively, taking the train from Paris Gare du Nord will take about 25-minutes direct. The train is run by TER Hauts-de-Franc, a regional rail network covering this region of France. You can use the SNCF trip planner here to plan the particulars of your train journey.
If you haven’t been to Gare du Nord before, allow yourself plenty of time to navigate this enormous and sometimes confusing station. Purchase a ticket to Chantilly-Gouvieux, the name of the station you should alight at.
There is a free shuttle from Chantilly station to the Château on weekends and public holidays. Otherwise, expect a 25-minute walk or about 5-minute taxi ride. If you do choose to walk, you can take a shortcut through Chantilly forest, or take the longer route through town. Both are a lovely stroll, just ensure you wear sturdy walking shoes.
Last tips for your Chantilly day trip
- Gare du Nord has a bad rep for scams and pickpockets. Make sure you buy a ticket an official seller or kiosk, and get me essential travel security tips.
- If you have a Paris Museum Pass or you plan to buy one (they are a real money-saver) Château de Chantilly entry is covered.
- A combined return train ticket and admission to the Château is offered seasonally. See details of Le Pack TER Chantilly here. The website is in French, but if you’re using Google Chrome, just right click and select “Translate to English”.
- Make sure you check the train schedule for the final return journey of the day. You don’t want to find yourself stranded (although Chantilly is a lovely town to overnight in).
- Check Château de Chantilly’s opening days and hours as they vary seasonally. Note, like most museums in France, it is closed on Tuesdays throughout the year.
- Pack water, snacks, a warm layer, rain jacket and your camera.
- Ensure you are wearing comfortable walking shoes.
Renowned for its enchanting beauty, equine culture and artisan crafts, Chantilly offers an easy day trip from Paris. From its magnificent Château de Chantilly to the picturesque gardens of Le Potager des Princes, Chantilly is a destination worth exploring.
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