Back in April, a couple of weeks into the Belgian lockdown, it had already become clear that traveling far outside of our country borders wasn’t going to be in the books for the next few months. On a slower day at work, I was talking travels with one of our brokers and he mentioned the Castle of Chantilly as a gem close to home. I’m not always one to be very attentive when I’m having small talk at work, but that conversation stuck with me and was one of the reasons why I embarked on a trip through Hauts-de-France mid-July.
The Domaine of Chantilly was planned for the second afternoon of our road trip and it was of course one of the points of interest I was looking forward to the most. Besides the castle, there is so much more to explore there. There is a huge garden, the stables and of course there is the little town of Chantilly itself as well.
Upon arrival on site, it was immediately clear that it indeed was impressive. My nose was against the car window trying to see as much as possible as we were passing by on the way to the car park. We opted to leave our car on the grounds – for a fixed fee of 5 euros – as that just seemed like the easiest option.
It was little after 2pm when we left our car. Right in time for the dressage demonstration at 2:30pm in the Dome of the Great Stables. The Stables at Chantilly are the largest ones in Europe, so that on its own makes it pretty remarkable. Inside the 18th century building, you can find the Museum of the Horse, which is dedicated to the relationship between men and horses. We went through that pretty quickly as we had to make it in time for the show and I wasn’t all that interested in that stuff. It was also obligatory to wear a face mask inside and with it being quite hot that day, we didn’t really want to linger too long there.
The equestrian show itself wasn’t very spectacular, but it was interesting to learn all about the training of these amazing horses. As a child I was obsessed with horses and even rode them for a little while, so that makes it even more special for me personally. After the technical explanation Romain, a Shetland pony, entered the arena and gave us a little show. It wasn’t flawless, but it was just so adorable.
After the show, it was time to explore the domain. At the ticket office we had received a folder with two walking routes through the gardens, so it seemed only logical to follow the longest route in order to see it all. My sister and I unfortunately aren’t very good navigators and we couldn’t seem to figure out where exactly to go from the stables to follow the route. So we accidentally ended up outside of the domain and in the town of Chantilly itself. It’s a cute place with once again the typical umbrellas in the main street and some lovely restaurants and cafes, but other than that, it didn’t really seem like much of a big deal.
By the time we figured out we had gone the wrong way and we back where we were supposed to be, it had gotten quite hot. We decided to lay our navigation skills to rest for a while and visit the – hopefully cooler – castle itself first. Inside you can find lavishly decorated suites, a gorgeous library, and a large collection of antique paintings. A lot to discover!
We spent about 45 minutes wandering through these beautiful rooms. It was once again obligatory to wear our masks inside so that might have sped us up a bit. But there weren’t many other people to slow us down either, so I think 45 minutes is a good time estimation to get a general idea of the place.
Back outside, it was time for a second attempt through the gardens. And this time around we were more successful. There are different parts to be explored; the French-style garden from the 17th century, the Anglo-Chinese one from the 18th century and the English Garden from the 19th century. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to see all of the grounds (there are 115 hectares!) but what we did manage to see was well worth our time.
So much of exploring of course made us feel a little hungry, so we had to make a stop at the Restaurant du Hameau, which can also be found on the domain. One simply can’t visit Chantilly without trying chantilly cream, right? Yes yes, basically it’s just whipped up cream with some flavor, but added on top of some strawberries and you have a de-li-ci-ous afternoon snack.
Happy with how our afternoon had gone, we returned to our car and said goodbye to this lovely place. A real gem that doesn’t seem very well-known, but is definitely worth the drive. The Domaine of Chantilly can be found about an hour outside of Paris, so besides a great weekend away from around where I live, it’s also a great option as a day trip from France’s capital. The ticket price to the domain was 15,3 euros and includes entrance to the castle, the equestrian show and the temporary exhibitions. In my opinion a bargain for an afternoon well spent!