The phrase ‘like a Phoenix out of the ashes’ could virtually describe the Domaine de Chantilly. Rebuilt between 1875 and 1885 after being ravaged and burned during the French Revolution, it feels as if the Chantilly Domain has been intact forever.
The history of this property and the importance of keeping it in the family reads like a television series of intrigue, jealousy, and passion involved with royal history. Consider that from 1386 to 1897, the domain has passed on by inheritance to different branches of the same family, without ever being sold.
The Chantilly château is a rich storehouse of history thanks to the avid collection of the Duke of Aumale, son of King Louis Philippe. The collection includes least at ten masterpieces, a thousand paintings, a beautiful library containing 30,000 books, thousands of drawings and engravings, old prints and manuscripts. Along with archeological finds, porcelains and other decorative arts, look for the black lace. Did you know that black is the usual color of Chantilly lace?
Within the former living quarters of the château, is the art gallery, the Condé Museum. A student of French history at Princeton University, Rachel, was our guide through the separate apartment tour. The guides are stagiaires (short-term employees) who work and lodge on the grounds for a month at a time.
Get to the château early
You have no idea how much there is to do until you actually look at the Chantilly Domain brochure, which I did a couple of days after the visit instead of upon arrival (there was no time).
Plan your visit ahead of time with the Web site as best you can. By planning, I mean, down to the minute or else stay for two days to fully enjoy your visit to the Chantilly Domain. The Hamlet restaurant serves regional dishes and unforgettable Chantilly cream. Reserve your table!
I suggest down to the minute in case there is any delay in a 1 p.m. lunch service. If you are enjoying the outdoor air while having a wonderful lunch and Chantilly cream on your dessert under the shade trees at the Hamlet (the inspiration for the Queen Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet at Versailles), your relaxation is about to turn into a stomach-churning dash to the Grand Stables for the 2:30 p.m. equestrian show. In addition, you will end up with seats in the rafters instead of closer to ringside.
We arrived by train at the village of Chantilly by 10 a.m. With the help of the curator, the ride to the Domain took about five minutes. His wonderful explanation of the history took about 45 minutes. Our audio guide tour and visit of the museum portion began around 11 a.m. The reservation for lunch in the Hamlet was for 1 p.m. The equestrian show, “A Russian Prince visiting Chantilly” would begin at 2:30 p.m. with open seating around the arena.
We split the château visit into two separate events: first the masterpieces in the morning and second, the general guided tour of the apartments after the show. The audio guide tour of the gardens will have to be for another time (it is wonderful to listen to on its own).
Searching for the Raphaëls
At Chantilly the masterpieces in the Duke of Aumale’s collection include Clouet, Corot, Delacroix, Ingres, Fouquet, Poussin, di Banco, Watteau. One person in our party of three was more familiar with the contents of Chantilly. He was looking for the Raphaël paintings.
When the challenge is offered, every painting label receives a gaze. Then I will say, “I found one”! This is at the same time as listening to the excellent audio guide, which eventually tells you that there are three Raphaëls in this collection, more than the Louvre possesses.
As with many museums in France, the visit for children is laid out in brochures as a hunt for objects and symbols in paintings or as games. If you read French and want to hunt as a child for details, pick up the brochures for the 5-7 or 8-12 year old sleuths. Unfortunately, they are not available in English.
The Duke of Aumale donated the Domain to the Institut of France. The Domain is now managed by the Foundation for the Safe-keeping and Development of the Chantilly Domain until 2025.
Things to Consider on Your Visit
- Too much to do and see in one day! The day is too short at Chantilly!
- Transportation from the railway station to Chantilly is available. Better transportation is in the planning stage, according to the Chantilly Foundation.
- The Domaine de Chantilly Website provides ideas how to reach the Chantilly estate.
- Buying a ticket separately to the equestrian show is expensive. Do buy a pass.
- Specific guided tour times for the parks (one hour) and general guided visits of the château (30 to 40 minutes) are only available at the château reception desk. Golf carts for the park, guided tour information, and time estimates for your visit are on the Chantilly “Tickets and Prices page.
Additional practical information
- Chantilly is closed on Tuesday
- The Chantilly Website provides ideas on how to reach the estate, including the taxi rate.
- Chantilly village tourist information
- Duke of Aumale in a New York Times article from 1897
Travel hints to Domaine de Chantially
- The Transilien/TER direct train leaves from Gare du Nord and takes 25 minutes (Train station is Chantilly-Gouvieux).
- You are heading to Chantilly Gouvieux in the direction of Creil in the Picardie region (pick up the timetable #23 Creil-Paris at the information (accueil) counter.
- Keep an eye on the monitors; your platform will be posted about 15 minutes before departure.
- The platforms are near the front entrance of the Gare du Nord station (not in the back).
- When returning to Paris, your platform will be on the station side; double check the monitors.
- Once at the station, exit toward the station not toward the wooded area.
- If you decide to walk, it is a nice wooded path that runs parallel to the main road.
- If you decide to take the bus or a taxi ask about this at the train station.
- Consider renting a bike in Paris and taking it with you on the train