Ticking the same boxes as Versailles (Wedding-cake château ✓, sumptuous Le Nôtre designed gardens ✓, pretend-peasant hamlet ✓, eye-popping stables ✓, lovely old town ✓, surrounding forests ✓), Chantilly nevertheless manages to be far more intimate and user-friendly than the Sun-King's des-res. An excellent choice for a stress-free family outing.
The Château itself is a fairy-tale architectural gem surrounded by 1,900 acres of gorgeous landscaped grounds:
- One of the rare stately homes in France to remain fully furnished, the château contains some wonderful treasures, including an outstanding collection of Old Masters (the largest outside of the Louvre) and an irreplaceable anthology of books and manuscripts, the crown jewel of which is the priceless Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, considered by many to be the most beautiful illuminated manuscript of the 15th century (and therefore kept firmly locked behind vault doors).
- The château's Le Nôtre landscaped gardens are glorious with lots of different sections to explore and more than enough sights and activities to keep children busy including a tourist train, a maze, a play area, a kangaroo enclosure (huh?) and the fake hamlet which served as the model for Marie-Antoinette's Petit Hameau at Versailles (and where incidentally Chantilly cream was first whipped up).
- Unmissable, the Gandes Écuries (or Great Stables) is an extravaganza of an edifice commissioned in 1719 by the Prince Condé in the (ever so slightly deluded) belief that he would one day be reincarnated as one of his horses. At capacity, it can hold up to 240 horses and 500 hounds and is today a "living horse" museum with permanent exhibits and daily dressage shows.
- To prepare your visit: http://www.domainedechantilly.com.
Further afield in the lovely old town, you will find the enchanting themed gardens of the Potager des Princes. With farmhouse animals, rabbit races and a quirky hen chorus, this lovely space is particularly suited for children. Every summer, the garden organises interactive workshops and a summer theatre festival.
In nearby Chantilly Forest, the Commelles Ponds are a series of 4 artificial lakes created as fish reservoirs in the 13th century by the monks of Chaalis Abbey. Secluded and tranquil, they are beloved by walkers, fisherman and bird watchers alike. Special mention for Étang des Loges and its hauntingly romantic, pocket-sized Chateau de la Reine Blanche (with very handy café next door).
- L'Auberge du Jeu de Paume, 4 Rue du Connétable, 60500 Chantilly - Ideally situated just behind the Grand Stables, this hotel boasts all the comforts one would expect from a Relais & Chateau property.
- La Maison et l'Atelier, 26 R. des Croix, 60530 Crouy-en-Thelle- A charmer of a bed and breakfast, well-situated for Chantilly, Abbaye de Royaumont and the Vexin National Park.
- L'Auberge du Jeu de Paume offers two highly-regarded restaurants, the one-Michelin starred La Table du Connétable and the more relaxed Le Jardin d'Hiver.
- Restaurant du Hameau, Le Parc du Château- In spring and summer, the idyllic Hameau becomes home to a tearoom offering a simple menu du terroir and, much, much more importantly, desserts/afternoon tea served with epic dollops of home-made, real-deal Chantilly cream. Yum!