Over the years, the Château de Chantilly has spawned several well-known cultural icons, such as Chantilly Crème, Chantilly Lace, and Chantilly Porcelain. Of these three, only the ubiquitous cream continues to be produced today.
However, what has survived is one of the finest collections of historical art in France and a library of rare and precious books and manuscripts.
The Château de Chantilly stands just outside the village of Chantilly in the Picardy region of northern France. Surrounded by the Chantilly Forest, the village is only 25 minutes by train from Paris.
The domain of Chantilly was passed on by inheritance from 1386 to 1897 within the same family (Orgemont 14th-15th centuries, Montmorency 15th-17th centuries, Bourbon Condé 17th-18th centuries and Aumale 19th century), without ever being sold.
The Duke d’Aumale was only eight years old when he inherited Chantilly from the Prince de Condé, in 1830. The original Château had been destroyed during the French Revolution, so the Duke set about reconstructing it to house his collection of paintings, drawings, objets d’art, books, etc.
With no heir, the Duke of d’Aumale bequeathed Chantilly to the Institut de France in 1884 on the condition that it was open to the public. In keeping with the Duke’s wishes, the layout of the paintings remains unchanged since the 19th century.
Art and Gardens
The Château de Chantilly, also known as the Condé Museum, houses an impressive collection of French and Italian paintings (second only to the Louvre), including works by Raphael, Clouet, Poussin, Watteau, Ingres, Gericault, Delacroix, and Borot. You can get a taste for the Château’s art collection at the Google Cultural Institute.
The art collection consists of 15,000 pieces, including 830 paintings, 5,000 drawings and engravings, 250 sculptures and 1,000 old photographs.
The library and archives contain 150,000, including 2,000 manuscripts, 10,500 rare and precious printed books, 3,000 portfolios or registers of old archives, historical correspondence, old charts, and maps.
Few gardens make such spectacular use of tranquil water as Chantilly. The Château was built on a rock in a marshy forest, with the lake serving as a moat. The original Renaissance garden was transformed into the present baroque garden by André Le Nôtre in 1663.
Horses and Dogs
Hunting with packs of dogs was a favourite activity of the French royalty. With 240 horses and 400 hounds to house, Louis-Henri de Bourbon, the seventh Prince of Condé built the Grandes Écuries (Great Stables). A masterpiece of 18th century architecture, the Great Stables were built by the architect Jean Aubert between 1719 and 1740.
The connection with horses continues to this day, with the Great Stables housing the Museum of the Horse. Inaugurated in 2013, this museum presents the relationship between men and horses since the beginning of civilisation. The museum also retraces the role of the horse in power, war, hunting and leisure.
Horseracing, for which Chantilly has been famous since 1834, is represented in two rooms of the museum, with a video demonstrating how jockeys’ positions have evolved over the years.
In addition, the Great Stables offers equestrian shows throughout the year. We were fortunate to attend Kavallisté, a one hour show that combines Corsican culture, equestrian arts and polyphonic singing beneath the majestic dome of the Great Stables.
Getting there from Paris
Do your homework first. The Château does not open until 10.00 am (closed Tuesday in Low Season). We visited in June, arriving before the gates opened. At that time, few tourists were evident. From the Gare du Nord, take the special train to Picardie, located upstairs in the main hall for the Grands Lignes. Chantilly-Gouvieux is the second stop and takes 25 minutes. The RER is an alternative, but it takes 45 minutes.
While there is supposed to be a shuttle bus at the station, we could not find it. Possibly we were too early. Our advice is to get a bus timetable and a map. We eventually caught a taxi (five minutes – eight euros). We could not find the bus stop for our return journey, so we humped it back to the station, around 45 minutes (not recommended for sciatica sufferers). No taxis were anywhere in sight.
Chantilly has much to see and do, but it takes planning to see it all. Relatively few tourists were evident on our visit, but our advice is to get there early. Book a combined ticket online that gives access to the whole domain (chateau, grounds, great stables, museum of the horse) + equestrian show. The equestrian show starts at 2.30 pm, and it was packed out. It seems that some tourist groups come just for the equestrian show.
Château de Chantilly
60500 Chantilly, France
+33 3 44 27 31 80
Apr-Oct: 10am to 6pm (grounds close at 8 pm). Open every day
Nov-Mar: 10.30am to 5 pm (grounds close at 6 pm). Closed Tuesday
From Paris: SNCF Gare du Nord (25min) to Chantilly-Gouvieux then Bus 15 or Bus DUC to “Chantilly, église Notre-Dame”
From Paris: RER D (45min) to Chantilly-Gouvieux then Bus 15 or Bus DUC to “Chantilly, église Notre-Dame”
From Paris: A3 and/or A1 motorway, “Chantilly” exit, or D316 and D317 roads