It only takes 40 minutes north of Paris to get to the peaceful town of Chantilly, which boasts of its most famous landmark, the Chateau de Chantilly, a picturesque castle dating back to the Gallo-Roman period. With its roots connected to the Montmorency family, the chateau is made up of two connected parts: the Petit Chateau (built around 1560) and the Grand Chateau.
Prince of Bourbon-Condé Louis-Joseph (1736-1818) was the castle's owner during the Revolution. He fled the country to England after the fall of Bastille. Twenty years later in 1815, he returned to Chantilly and oversaw the restoration of the ruined castle, bringing back an impressive collection of paintings, which now make up the Musée Condé.
Its last private owner, the Duke of Aumale, rebuilt the castle from 1875 to 1881, and upon his death in 1897, his wish to leave his entire property to the Institut the France was granted.
You'd be surprised to know that the chateau's art gallery, Musée de Condé, houses the second wealthiest collection of art after the Louvre itself. Masterpieces include Botticelli's 'Autumn', Raphael's 'Three Graces', and Sassetta's 'Mystic Marriage of St. Francis'. Also on display are works by Eugene Delacroix, Gericault, Fra Angelico, Van Dyck, Barocci, Nicolas Poussin and Antoine Watteau.
The Grand Apartments are littered with magnificent works of art and paintings. The Monkey Room's walls are decorated with amusing scenes of aristocratic and well-dressed monkeys, and a walk down the Battle Gallery will have you admiring a series of military paintings by painter Sauveur Le Conte.
The Small Apartments feature the private rooms of the Duke and Duchess of Aumale. Visit their salons, bedrooms, dining rooms and even their bathrooms!
Drop by the Petit Chateau's impressive library, crammed with archives, books and documents collected by the families of Montmorency and Bourbon-Condé. There are over 12,500 printed volumes and hundreds of medieval manuscripts in the collection, housed in specially dedicated rooms: the Book Cabinet, the Theatre Library, and the Reading Room.
Chantilly being the capital of thoroughbred racing in France, the chateau's Grand Ecuries (Big Stables) are impressive. Prince Henri-Louis de Bourbon had this equestrian palace designed in 1719, believing that he would be reincarnated as a horse. Since 1982, rider and instructor Yves Bienaimé created the Musée Vivant du Cheval (Living Museum of the Horse). Equestrian shows are held here for the public.
In the 17th century, it was André Le Notre who designed the 7500 square feet of rolling gardens for the Grand Condé. The grounds include a parterre, an English garden, a Chinese/ English Garden and, east of the castle, the Small Park, which was used for entertaining the guests of the Princes of Condé during the summer.
The Chateau de Chantilly is open every day except Tuesdays. It can be reached via car, train (from Gare du Nord) and RER (Chatelet Les Halles ligne D). A comprehensive guide on how to get there is outlined here.
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