My lovely mom just returned back home after a week spent here visiting me in Paris (and, I think, having a much needed break). It had been seven months since we’d last seen each other, so it was great to have her here for a fairly significant period of time so we could spend some time together.
Unfortunately, my French classes at the Sorbonne started earlier than initially expected, so it reduced the amount of time I could spend with her each day, which meant of course taking advantage of the full free days on the weekend. We had thought about going to Mont Saint Michel, but we decided to go somewhere closer to the city. So we grabbed train tickets to go up and spend Saturday exploring the castle and museums at Chantilly, a small town about 40km north of Paris in the Picardie region.
It happened to be the weekend of the Journées des Plantes festival, where vendors from all over come to sell their plants/flowers/plant related products. When we went to buy our tickets, the price had been hiked up a bit because of it, but we ended up getting general admission tickets for the festival and museums. Tip: If you have any form of student ID- bring it with you for a discounted entry.
The ticket office is at the front of the Musée du Cheval, or the Living Museum of the Horse. It’s named as such because there are only a couple of rooms that talk about the town’s history with horses (it’s home to one of the biggest racetracks in Europe) and the rest is full of horses. There are daily dressage exhibitions, the most renowned of which we regrettably missed. It was great to be back in the smell of horses again though, reminding me of my preteen years spent in the stables.
We wandered through the flower stands before heading into the château, which is also the Musée Condé, filled with artworks collected by the Duke d’Aumale, Henri d’Orléans. In his will when he bequeathed it to the state, he insisted that the museum and its collections remain untouched in Chantilly, never to be loaned to other insitutions. . There are over 700 books printed before 1501 in the collection, and an amazing series of paintings that the Duke used to show off to his guests after banquets. The château itself is actually fairly new because the original estate was destroyed in the French Revolution and rebuilt in the 1870s.
After exploring the château (the gardens were designed by the same guy who designed the ones at Versailles), we went back to the market to wander some more (I had my eye on a pretty little potted cyclamen and have been kicking myself ever since for not getting it) and to find lunch in the flower stands. After grabbing some soup and a sandwich, I insisted that we needed to find some chantilly cream. When we found the stand that was selling it with crêpes and pain d’épices, it was a no-brainer. And let me tell you- if you ever go to Chantilly and don’t get chantilly cream, you’re missing out. This stuff was incredible- thick consistency, vanilla flavor, almost like ice cream. I’m not sure if all the cream here is like this, but I’d like to believe it is!
At the end of the day, we walked back into town and grabbed a hot chocolate at a tea room to kill time until the train back to Paris. Chantilly is a great place to take a day trip from Paris, reasonably priced and set in a beautiful landscape with the adorable town only a 15 minute walk away.
Planning a day trip to Chantilly?
Practical information: We got tickets for the TER regional train online through the SNCF Intercities website– if you go to just the SNCF website and look up the Paris-Chantilly route, it won’t give you any results. My mom got a basic 26-59 adult ticket and it cost about 9€ each way. I have a Carte Jeune, a youth travelcard, so mine was around 7€ one way and 5€ the other. The trains leave from the main platforms at Gare du Nord so they’re pretty easy to find, and it’s only two stops away from the city, about 25 minutes.
Once we arrived at the station, there was a free navette (shuttle bus) to the chateau that was just outside of the station- just follow the crowd. It runs on Saturdays, Sundays and jours feries (holidays) and brings you right to the chateau. Several small buses take passengers from the train station leaving at 9:40, 11:40 and 13:40. We took the 11:07 train from Paris and managed to get the last two seats on the first little shuttle bus, but there was one just after ours left. If you spend all day at the chateau and museums, you can get the same shuttle back to the train station at 17:04, 17:34, or 19:09, but you can just as easily walk back into town. It takes around 30 minutes if you walk on the roads; taking the walking paths would be faster. Beyond Paris has a great description of the best routes to the château from the train station.
General admission tickets (museums, chateau, and grounds) normally cost 16€ according to the website (9.5€ reduced). Because of the Journées des Plantes, Mom paid 20€ for a full price ticket; as a student, mine was 12€. This price included the dressage demonstration that we unfortunately missed. You can order them online in advance or just go to the ticket counter at the entrance to the Musée Cheval when you arrive.
Lastly, the rumored best place for Chantilly cream in the area is at Le Hameau (The Hamlet) on the chateau grounds, situated in rustic little houses that were the inspiration for Marie Antoinette’s hamlet at Versailles. You can make reservations here!