“Chantilly lace and a pretty face . . .” My mom tortured me with that 1950s tune from the Big Bopper. But those were not just silly lyrics. Chantilly is a royal town in Oise and, just north of the City of Light, makes for a great day trip from Paris.
Lace was once made there, but Chantilly is even more famous for a dessert condiment: whipped cream. In France, in fact, we call it crème chantilly. It was invented here in the 17th century by Vatel, the famous master of the house, shortly before he killed himself over a delayed order of fish for a royal banquet catering to Louis XIV. It’s a great story and was made into an enjoyable film starring Gerard Depardieu.
But I digress. Chantilly was home to the Duke d’Aumale, a member of the royal Orléans family, and when he died, he left his estate and entire art collection to the Institut de France. There was a condition: the institute couldn’t touch his interior decorating. Everything was to remain as he left it, and it has, making this the second-most important collection of paintings in France after the Louvre. Raphael’s Three Graces is at Chantilly, as are a handful of Watteau, Delacroix, Ingres and Fra Angelico masterpieces.
The artwork is lovely, but many people come for the stables, which are world famous. The horses at Chantilly had very refined lodgings, which some say were fit for the Bourbon prince who built them, the Prince de Condé. They are so stupendous that they inspired the Living Museum of the Horse, which offers visits as well as daily performances and other horse-related events throughout the year. There are also horse races on a course that you may recognize from the James Bond film A View to a Kill.
Staying outdoors, you’ll enjoy the fantastic grounds, with gardens by André Le Nôtre, picturesque swans, a restaurant for a taste of some chantilly and a forest where the adventurous can take advantage of the trails to hike the 12 kilometers (about 7.5 miles) through the woods to the medieval town of Senlis.
To get there: a train runs from the Gare du Nord to Chantilly Gouvieux approximately every hour. From the station there is a free shuttle that passes from time to time, but you can simply walk along the well-marked path for about 25 minutes, and voilà, you’ve arrived.
Editor’s note: Pick up a cute Girls’ Guide T-shirt as a Valentine’s Day gift to yourself.