Paris day trip: Chantilly

When I first heard that Chantilly was only 25 minutes by train from Paris, my first thought was…whipped cream! Of course there is the famous Château with a painting collection only second to the Louvre, the world-renowned horse races and jumping shows, the rolling green hills, but really, it’s all about the Chantilly cream.

It’s no secret that my family loves whipped cream, and we serve it generously on just about any kind of desert. Emmanuelle in particular seems to have inherited the trait. The day trip wasn’t a hard sell.

We jumped on a city bus outside our apartment and arrived at the Gare du Nordin 20 minutes, SNCF app in hand with our 8 Euro tickets to Chantilly. The trains run every 30 minutes in each direction, so it’s easy enough to buy a ticket at the station too for a few more Euro. We have also learned on our many train travels in France, that you can buy a ticket from the conductor on the train, but you have to make sure you announce to him early that you didn’t have time to buy one at the station, lest he accuse you of riding the rails and throw you off.

As usual, the train was nearly empty so we had our choice of seats in second class. Murray was still recovering from an injury to his toe sustained playing soccer with a beach ball in Majorca a week earlier (a story for another day) so we vowed to take it easy.  A leisurely 20-minute walk through a park from the station took us to a massive field, with the famous Hippodrome overlooking the Château. The horses go to the beach in Deauville for the summer (much like a lot of Parisians) otherwise racing would have been high on the agenda.

We approached the Chåteau only to find a sign saying it was the new horse museum. This was in fact the royal stables, the largest in all of Europe, which house 30 show horses who perform twice a year, and now the museum.

The Château is in fact slightly smaller than the stables in its façade, but no less impressive with its moat filled with swans, and gorgeous gardens of various styles. Our favourite by far was the formal French garden, with “parterres” designed by Paris’ famous landscape architect LeNotre, who considered it his favourite work.

We’d brought a picnic (you can also buy picnics in the gift shop for 13 Euros) and settled by the canal. Due the toe predicament, we rented a golf cart to explore the grounds, which was surprisingly fun. We kept seeing signs for kangaroos, and indeed there was an enclosure containing dozens of them, even joeys at the very bottom of the gardens. Sheep, peacocks, and beehives rounded out the menagerie.  The girls and I capped off our visit in an extremely challenging hedge maze made even more precarious by poison ivy. We ended up cheating and following a family of German tourists who knew the way out.

After a couple of hours we headed back into town, having skipped a tour of the actual Château (it sounds bourgeois, but we’re a bit Château’d-out). We set out in search of what we were really here for: the famous Chantilly. We found it on the Omer Valon square, at a white-tented spot near the fountain called La Place. Here, they serve a generous bowl of Chantilly with a “gaufre” (waffle) to dip in it. Sublime.

We joked that we’d had Champagne in Champagne, champignons de Paris in Paris, Chablis in Chablis, Chantilly in Chantilly (and soon Dijon in Dijon and Bouef Bourgignon in Bourgogne).

It’s one way to tour France, and we highly recommend it.