While its whipped cream gets the foodies drooling, Chantilly also attracts the history enthusiasts and horse lovers to its beautiful castle and gardens.
People always go to Versailles Castle, but Chantilly, also near Paris, is arguably as fascinating. A Royal Castle once owned by the Prince Grand Condé, cousin of King Louis XIV, it harbours a unique French art collection and extraordinary Le Nôtre gardens. This horse nirvana displays some Great Stables, a horse race track, many shows and even houses a horse museum.
If the gourmets know the famous Chantilly whipped cream for dessert, history enthusiasts and horse lovers know it for its Chantilly domain. In the French Picardie, only an hour drive North from Paris, Chantilly is a gem that deserves several visits. The original castle dates back to 16th century but most of the monumental actual castle, with rounded towers and huge fortifications, was rebuilt at the end of 19th century, after destructions occurred during the French revolution era.
Many famous owners have made their mark on Chantilly. The Montmorency Family, for instance, in the 16th century, the Grand Condé in the 17th, and the Duke of Aumale in the 19th. The Duke, a famous soldier and academician, whose seven children had died, bequeathed the domain to the Institute of France, home of academicians. It is now conjointly administrated by the institute and by the Aga Khan Foundation, run by the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims community.
The Duke of Aumale, a great art collector, donated his collection, provided it would be kept in its exact display. A personal mix of various eras, where Raphael, and Renaissance, can be the (distant) neighbours of a 19th century colonial battle painting. The magnificent library, the 16th century Clouet miniatures, the delicate Watteau or Greuze scenes, or the famous Molière portrait by Mignard show Chantilly was always an artists’ oasis.
André Le Nôtre designed the 115 hectares geometrical French Park and its complex water structures. La Fontaine imagined some tales there. Vatel, the famous chef of the Grand Condé, was less lucky. On April 24, 1671, Vatel who was 40 years old killed himself because he thought he was dishonoured, since the fish he expected for a magnificent reception in the honour of King Louis XIV did not arrive. But the fish finally made it. The King was happy and forgave the Grand Condé for his treason during the Fronde civil war, the whole purpose of this invitation to Chantilly. Vatel was discovered dead in an apartment after the King left. Chantilly is still a prestigious destination for events such as gala dinners and weddings including an Indian wedding.
The Grandes Ecuries (Great Stables) of Chantilly, built in the 17th century, are also architectural masterpiece. They shelter a fantastic Horse museum that exhibits arts and artefacts such as sculptures, paintings, saddles from all over the world, including India. Nearby, the famous horse track welcomes international events such as the Prix de Diane, where the Indian actress Aishwarya Rai wore an elegant Spanish “senorita hat” in 2015. Don’t miss the famous horse shows created by Sophie Bienaimé, artistic head and horsewoman in chief of the Grandes Ecuries. A marvel of grace and colours. And for a restful walk, visit the Potager des Princes (the Princes kitchen garden), a delicate independent domain, located a few hundred meters from the horse museum. The kids enjoy theatre by the lake, Living Museum of Farmyard and the splendid Gardens Museum.