This grand estate with its collection of buildings, gardens, stables and racetrack, is located just 50 km on the outskirts of Paris in northern France. Domaine de Chantilly is notably one of the jewels in the crown of France’s cultural heritage, and for good reason. It is also most commonly known as the Condé Musée and they have one of the richest painting collections in France, 2nd only to Le Louvre.
The two large buildings, the Petit Château and the Grand Château, were the home of Anne, Duke of Montmorency, former Grand Master and Constable of France. He was a military general who served under five Kings of France, during the 16th century. During the French Revolution, the Grand Chateau was dismantled. But, later around 1870 it was rebuilt and became the home of Henri Eugène Philippe Louis d’Orléans, Duke of Aumale, fifth son of the last Roi de France, King Louis-Philippe. While many declared the building an architectural bust, he filled the domain with an outstanding collection of precious books, paintings and decorative art objects. Upon his death he bequeathed the Domain and its entire precious collection to the Institut de France, on the condition that the art must never be moved, nor be loaned out. Each piece is in the exact place where it was hung by the last Duke. The museum also contains a collection of 1,300 manuscripts including the daybook Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, that can only be viewed here.
The Institute has transformed into a phenomenal museum housing treasures from the Middle Ages up to the 19th century. The layout of the collections remains completely unchanged and the château looks as it did in the 19th century, providing a wonderful opportunity to travel back in time to the heart of a princely residence. There are paintings by all the great artists, like Van Dyke, Raphaël, Delacroix and Botticelli.
You may have seen these buildings in the movies too, as the chateau and the Great Stables were featured in the 1985 James Bond film A View to a Kill, as the home of the villain, Max Zorin (played by Christopher Walken) which was being infiltrated by Bond (Roger Moore) in his quest to find out more about Zorin. Grace Jones also stars in this movie in a scene at the Great stables, where she calms a rearing horse.
Le Nôtre French Gardens
With an overall surface area of 115 hectares, including 25 hectares of water features, the gardens of the Château de Chantilly are the result of several creations representing the style and fashion of three different periods. The French-style garden created by André Le Nôtre in the 17th century (yes, of Versailles fame), the Anglo-Chinese Garden in the 18th century and the English Garden in the 19th century. These gardens offer extensive parterres and water features as a rare example of a layout with an axis that is off centre in relation to the château. For over more than three centuries, these gardens have provided a unique testament to the relationship between men and nature in the western world.
The Anglo-Chinese Garden
This is where you will find the charming (albeit bizarre) Hameau de Chantilly, a collection of five small colombage houses that are rustic in appearance. It served as the model for Marie-Antoinette’s Hameau de la reine in the Petit Trianon in the gardens at Versailles. The gardens were originally based on gastronomy with orchards, orange trees, berries and vegetables and flow with less formality than the main French gardens.
The English Garden
Also originally designed at the end of the 17th century by André Le Nôtre, for Louis II de Bourbon, Prince of Condé, However, it was destroyed during the French Revolution and rebuilt by 19th century architect Victor Dubois. Here you now find inspiration from Greco-Roman times with a temple of Venus and the Island of Love, featuring a statue of Eros, the God of Love. English gardens are wilder in nature to highlight the poetry of plants and the outdoors.
The Flower Show
They also host an amazing Flower show every year. The annua Flower Show entitled “Les Journées des Plantes de Chantilly“. This year’s theme is the “Awakening of the Senses” and runs from May 7th to the 9th, 2021. This show has been going on for over 30 years now. The gardens are open from 10:30am to 5:30pm, 6 days a week, closed on Tuesday. The château and the great stables remain closed until further notice.
The Great Stables
The Grandes Écuries is a masterpiece of 18th century architecture, built by the architect Jean Aubert for Louis-Henri de Bourbon, the 7th Prince of Condé. They are a veritable horses’ palace, complete with a racing track. The building also houses the Living Museum of the Horse, which presents the relationship between men and horses since the beginning of civilization. The building is huge, measuring over 186 meters long with a central dome 38 meters high, and at one time could accommodate 240 horses and 500 dogs for the daily rides to hunt. It is also one of the most visited horse tracks in the world.
The Equestrian show
The Great Stables offer equestrian shows throughout the year underneath the dome, devoted to the art of haute-école horse training which has been contributing to Chantilly’s international renown for more than 30 years
The riders of the Equestrian Company create an exceptional equestrian show that tells the story of the Great Stables. For about one hour, it re-lives the history of the Great Stables, step by step. Horses, donkeys and ponies bring 300 years of history back to life and show their know-how: Haute École, liberty work, prancing, bowing. Each year the show changes with a different theme and generally takes place in the fall months between October and November. It’s a must see if you love horses.
So, there are some questions as to who actually invented Chantilly whipped cream. The most commonly known history is that it was the great French chef François Vatel who worked in the kitchens of the Château de Chantilly. In the 17th century, he was asked to organise a party for the Duc de Condé, owner of Chantilly, and his cousin Louis XIV at the Chateau. The three-day party served sumptuous meals and included lavish entertainment, along with hunting during the day. However, Vatal was having problems in the kitchen and specifically with supplies. He was terrified of failing, and so he chose to commit suicide before the party was over. There is another version of the same story that involves fish as well. The story goes that when they were about to serve the fish, he realized there was enough for everyone, and he committed suicide because of it. We are not sure which one is the real story, but he did commit suicide sadly, that is true. Why, is still being debated. The actual recipe for whipped frothy cream goes back much further that the 17th century though. Recipe books from many years before feature a cream with vanilla and egg white “light like snow”. Not until a century after that famous party would the name Chantilly Cream be applied to this whipped cream and the recipe would include sugar as we know it today. Here is my recipe for this great and easy dessert cream without using egg white. You could use egg white, but then the cream needs to be consumed with the the day.
yThe splendour and romance of the Domaine are further enhanced by their in-house restaurant, La Capitainerie, through its traditional French fare made using the fresh local produce. Desserts come layered with the signature whipped cream – Chantilly Crème.
To get to Chantilly via train, which is twice as fast as the one-hour car trip, just take the 22-minute train or RER from Gare du Nord train station in Paris to the Chantilly-Gouvieux station, and then a 15-minute stroll (1km) to the château. Get your free audio guide at the entrance, just bring earphones with a 3mm jack for a better experience.
I’d also like to thank the Domaine Chantilly and these photographers (Jérôme Houyvet, Sophie LLoyd, C Taniere, M. Savart, Jean-Pierre Delagarde, Jessica Rodriguez and Gary Otte) for providing me many of these lovely photos. At the present time the domain’s buildings remain closed, but as soon as it opens to the public, I am going to be going back to Domaine de Chantilly, to see again their fantastic collection of art and see the horse show!
Vivre ma France,