As much as I appreciate Paris for its history as an artist’s haven and for the opportunities with which it pulses to educate oneself culturally, it is a big city and, like any big city, can leave one longing for nature. Chantilly, a small town only half an hour outside of Paris by train, offers a refreshingly grassy landscape, a château with bluish gray roofs that sparkle, and horses and is the perfect day trip destination from Paris!
From the train station, one can walk to the château through the town via Avenue du Maréchal Joffre, turning right at Rue de Connétable. I’d recommend taking a detour via the side street Boulevard de la Libération Maurice Schumann for a lovely first glimpse of the château.
Having arrived at the château, I was turned around, so what I’d meant to do last I did first: I walked to the Anglo-Chinese garden, alongside a line of daffodils that paralleled a stream, to Le Hameau, a white and dark-wood cottage restaurant with a water wheel on its side said to serve the best Chantilly cream.
Though the menu lists many attractive options, among them a plate of fresh strawberries topped with Chantilly cream, I chose the simplest, a scoop of Chantilly cream served by itself. Chantilly cream is many things at once without being any of those things: it looks like whipped cream, has the consistency of frosting, and tastes like ice cream, a subtle sweet with a hint of vanilla. It is not something to be skipped when visiting Chantilly!
The château itself is a museum, the Musée Condée. It is home to Nicolas Poussin’s Le massacre des innocents and Raphael’s La Vierge de Lorette but comprises many rooms, one of which holds black lace—including a piece sewn into the shape of a butterfly—and many of which contain paintings by Bellini, Dulac, Girardet, Gudin, Mazzoluno, and d’Orleans, to name some of the artists. There is Delacroix and Delaroche, too, but look for L’amour désarmé, by Jean Antoine Watteau, in a rotunda with a skylight and paintings of French cities hung just below the windows. I loved this painting for its artistic style—soft and blurred, but not as in Impressionist works—but more so for the beauty of the emotion it evokes with its name, once one connects it to the painting’s subject: Venus steals Cupid’s bow, but as Venus is the mother of Cupid, the painting is also simply of a mother and her child, and so the name might be interpreted literally as Cupid, disarmed, but also as Venus, Goddess of Love, disarmed by her small child, whom she loves.
Worth seeing is the Cabinet des Livres, a library of beautiful books collected by a bibliophile and organized by format, intellectual movement, and binding period. It contains over 700 incunabula, or books printed before 1500. The prettiest book on display, I think, is a beaded one with an “M” on it for Marie de Médicis.
Additionally, there are the grands appartements and Le Chambre de Monsieur Le Prince, full of things glittering, upholstered, and gold; La Grande Gallerie des Batailles, on the walls of which hang a floor-to-ceiling canvas of a scene from battle and another, skinnier, canvas like a map; and Le Salon de Musique, which contains only a harp but looks out onto the French garden.
After doing a lap around the English garden, I said hello to the horses in the grand stables and walked through Le Musée du Cheval, which contains statues of horses from Asia, drawings of horses from the Middle East, and European portraits of champion racehorses, before walking back into town along a racetrack and rows of trees.