It’s a given that the biggest, most popular, and most iconic places of any country become the ‘go to’ or ‘must see’ destinations that attract the most visitors. Their reputation builds upon itself. Cities, like Paris, become legends, and deservedly so.
But we have to acknowledge the hidden gems, the places that don’t get all the publicity, and still pack so much of a cultural punch.
One of those is the city of Chantilly.
Located about a half hour outside Paris by train, the city boasts a chateau (what self-respecting French city doesn’t) and a world-class art museum. The Musee Conde is home to the second largest collection of paintings in France, outnumbered only by the Louvre, just to give you an idea of what you’re in for.
You’ll also find the largest horse stable complex on the European continent, Les Grands Ecuries. Inside the stables, you’ll find the Musee du Chaval, a museum dedicated to the horse, of course. (A single 17 euro adult ticket gets you one day access to the Domaine, where the chateau, museum, and stables are located. A great bargain. https://chateaudechantilly.fr/)
Horse racing has been a passion for Chantilly royalty and regulars alike for several centuries. If you want, you can coordinate your visit with a day at the races at the nearby Chantilly Racecourse.
You’ll also want to explore Chantilly lace–it’s construction and history–at the Musee de la Dentelle. If you remember the Big Bopper’s famous lyric, “Chantilly lace and a pretty face, ponytail hangin’ down…” good for you. If not, search it out on YouTube. It’s a classic tune, and this is the city where Chantilly lace originated.
As for gastronomic delights, you’ll be required to sample the coffee drinks that include the city’s infamous ‘chantilly’ or whipped cream. Whipped cream didn’t originate here, but the recipe that included sugar–a key ingredient in the fabulous taste–did. My advice: splurge for this in an upscale cafe. (Le Jardin D’Hiver comes to mind.)
You can enjoy the museums and the chateau in one day, taking a morning train from Paris Gar du Nord and arriving in Chantilly a half hour later. It’s an easy 20 minute walk from the train station in Chantilly to the city center, and everything you’ll want to see and do.
If you decide to stay overnight and make it a special occasion, consider the Auberge du Jeu de Paume, but I think the day trip is the best thing. You’ll start out early, take the first train out (buy your cafe et croissant before you board), see Chantilly, and return to Paris the same night, exhausted and exhilarated.
My experience: 2 roundtrip train tickets, 2 Domaine tickets, lunch for 2, and Chantilly lace souvenir napkins for the friends back home, all for about 200 euros.