Château de Chantilly - Tourism

Château de Chantilly

chantilly chateauThe Château de Chantilly lies just 40km north of Paris, and was built for Constable Anne de Montmorency. Despite the name, Anne wasn't a WPC. Anne was very much a man, was made Grand Master of France in 1526 and was the foremost sodier, statesman and diplomat of his age. Still, it's an unusual name for a boy, especially since his mother was also called Anne.

Anne built two Châteaux at Chantilly, but only one has survived, the Petit Château of 1560. The Grand Château (1528) was detroyed in the Revolution and completely rebuilt in the 1870s, so what you get today is an old, little Château and a relatively new big one. In 1632, the castles passed to those notorious foodies, the Princes of Condé, who would make Chantilly France's foremost gastro-Château.

François Vatel (d.1671) was Head Chef at Chantilly. He invented Chantilly cream (sweet, vanilla-flavoured whipped cream) and Poire Condé (poached pears with rice pudding) but his perfectionism was his undoing. On Friday April 24th 1671, Louis 'The Great Condé' (they didn't really do modesty) threw a banquet for King Louis XIV 'The Sun King' (ditto.) Vatel knew he had to come up with something pretty special, and by the time the guests arrived, he was in what the French would call 'a right old state.' When it became apparent that the fish course would be seved late, Vatel fell on his own sword (or possibly, egg-whisk) rather than face the shame.

Fast forward to 1719, and the new occupant is Louis Henri, Duc de Bourbon, Prince of Condé. Louis Henri was mad about horses (or possibly just mad) and believed that after his death he would be reincarnated as a horse. He therefore took the sensible precaution of building for himself the finest stables in Europe. Let's hope he's happy there. You can visit the stables today and they were featured in the James Bond film A View to a Kill. The Château itself featured in the 1962 film The Longest Day.

Musée Condé

The Musée Condé is the Château's art gallery. Among its treasures are the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, an extraordinary and beautiful illuminated manuscript completed in 1489. The book contains various prayers to be said at different hours of the day throughout the year. The illustrations (the colours are still vivid) show detailed pictures of courtly and peasant life through the changing seasons in medieval France.

The impressive grounds include a formal French Garden and an English Garden. This is not an English garden as we know it (small lawn, patio, barbeque, trampoline) but the French idea of an English garden, with an "Island of Love" and "Temple of Venus". They'd obviously never been to England.

The Château de Chantilly is open every day except Tuesday and admission costs a mere 10 €. (French château are remarkably good value - I went to Arundel Castle recently and was charged £13.) Whilst at Chantilly, you could treat yourself to lunch at La Capitainerie restaurant, housed in Vatel's old kitchen. The fish course is never late.