Chateau de Chantilly - France Travel Feature
A Grand Castle
on the Water
in the shimmering waters of its moat, the Château
de Chantilly looks like a fairytale castle, almost
too perfect to be true. And in a way, it is: the
Renaissance-style Grand Château isn't much
more than 100 years old (although the adjoining
Petit Château dates from the sixteenth century).
The castle that previously stood on this site was
razed during the Revolution by angry citizens for
whom Chantilly, fief of two ancient warrior families,
the Montmorencys and the Condés, symbolized
aristocratic privilege and military might.
The Grand Château houses the Musée
Condé, a jewel of a collection which ranges
from the curious — a wax head of King Henri
IV, the pink Condé diamond — to the sublime:
Piero di Cosimo's Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci,
Raphael's Virgin of Loreto, works by Botticelli,
several pictures by Poussin, two masterpieces by
Watteau, a splendid series of Renaissance portraits
by the Clouet father and son (including the famous
Catherine de Médicis and Henri III), and
an admirable collection of illuminated manuscripts.
Arranged just as the Duc d'Aumale, the last owner
of Chantilly, left it (with orders that it never
be changed), the museum has the personal and agreeably
eccentric style of a private collection.
Connoisseurs of fine equines know Chantilly as the
site of a famous racetrack and Thoroughbred training
center. A fascinating “living museum”
(Musée Vivant du Cheval) devoted to horses
occupies the colossal eighteenth-century stables.
From an architectural viewpoint, these Grandes Ecuries
are more imposing than the château itself.
But then that is not so surprising: the Prince of
Condé, who built the stables, was convinced
that he would be reincarnated as a horse!
château's majestic park, complete with a canal,
gardens and pools planned by seventeenth-century
landscape artist André Le Nôtre, is
crisscrossed by shady walks and velvety lawns. But
the immense (nearly 16,000-acre) Chantilly forest,
with its hiking paths and ponds, is by far the best
choice for a long woodland ramble. Take care, though:
between 9 a.m. and noon some 3,000 Thoroughbreds
thunder into the forest for their morning workout!
a bird's-eye view of the château and surrounding
areas, a hot-air balloon tethered there takes 30
visitors at a time up to an altitude of 150 meters.