A Chantilly Sojourn

Chateau de Chantilly - Crobard/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
Photo by Crobard/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
Auberge du Jeu de Paume’s Le Jardin d’Hiver bistro (here) is helmed by Chef Arnaud Faye.
Auberge du Jeu de Paume’s Le Jardin d’Hiver bistro is helmed by Chef Arnaud Faye.

A fairy-tale castle and fresh whipped cream are two things you may think of when someone mentions Chantilly in France, but on a recent visit we found so much more.

Often overshadowed by Versailles and Fontainebleau, Chantilly’s place in French history and its stature as a royal chateau is just as important. Only 24 minutes by train from the Gare du Nord station in Paris (less time than it takes to get to Versailles and Fontainebleau), Chantilly is still a well kept secret and not known by most visitors.

We took a day trip to Chantilly in early February on a sunny but blustery day, taking the train from Paris, where we were whisked into the bucolic French countryside in the time it takes to go from the Left Bank to the Right Bank of Paris.

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The newly built 92-room Relais & Châteaux property opened in Chantilly in 2013.
The newly built 92-room Relais & Châteaux property opened in Chantilly in 2013.

The main reason for our visit was to see the five-star Auberge du Jeu de Paume, a Relais & Châteaux hotel, the only one in Chantilly. We were warmly greeted by the head concierge, Dimitri Ruiz, who kindly set up a private guide to tour the castle with.

The energetic guide gave us a fascinating tour of the chateau, detailing its rich history, room by room. The roots of the estate are traced back to 1386 when a fortress was first built on the property. Later in 1484, it was inherited by Guillaume de Montmorency, who replaced the fortress with his private chateau, built between 1528 and 1531. He later commissioned the construction of the petit chateau in 1560. Louis Bourbon, Prince of Conde, was the next heir and invited the greatest artists of the time to show their paintings at the chateau. The chateau was destroyed during The French Revolution, and Henri d’ Orleans, the Duke of Aumale, inherited the property in the 1830s. He had the retreat rebuilt as a museum from 1875-1881. Tragically the duke’s two sons died before him and since there were no heirs to the throne, he bequeathed the chateau to the Institut de France.

The chateau boasts the second most important art collection in France after the Louvre and we were taken by the masterpieces by painters Raphael, Watteau, Poussin, Fragonard, Corot, Delacroix, Ingres, and Van Dyck. There is also an extensive library with more than 50,000 books and 15,000 manuscripts. The magnificent grounds have formal French gardens designed by Le Notre, who created the royal gardens of Versailles and Fontainebleau.

Chantilly is also known internationally for its horse stables and racetrack. The impressive horse stables are the largest in Europe and a horse museum is connected to the stables, which we visited. The racetrack is home to two of the most prestigious horse shows in France: Le Prix de Diane and Le Prix du Jockey Club.

Hungry for lunch after our tour, we headed back to the hotel -- a short distance from the chateau. One of the big pluses about the hotel is the convenient location, right at the entrance gate to the grounds of the chateau and across the street from the horse stables and museum.

The newly built 92-room hotel opened in 2013 on the site of a former police station. The intimate lobby with taupe-colored marble floors and dark wood columns is tastefully decorated with a private club feel to it.

We dined at the Le Jardin d’Hiver bistro helmed by Chef Arnaud Faye, who is also the executive chef at the two-star Michelin restaurant, La Table du Connetable, which is located in the hotel as well. The seasonal menu at La Table du Connetable combines historic and traditional cuisine with contemporary touches and new signature dishes. The elegant dining room, with Louis XVI style armchairs and chevron parquet floors, overlooks the sumptuous royal gardens designed by Le Notre.

We feasted on a light and lovely appetizer of crumbled crab with avocado with a pink radish jelly and followed it by a homey wild boar bourguignon served with spaetzle. A tarte tatin encrusted with flaky pastry was a delicious finish to our hardy meal.

After our excellent lunch, Nicole Wilms-Kaufmann, the sales manager and marketing director, gave us a tour of the rooms and suites. Nicole showed us a Deluxe Room, a Junior Suite and saved the best for last, the Presidential / Aumale Suite. The handsome 1,400-square-foot suite (it can be enlarged to 2,150 square feet with adjoining rooms) is the ultimate in French luxury with toile Jouy fabrics, a chintz-covered headboard, formal dining room with Chippendale-style chairs, separate kitchen, living room and private dressing room. Certain Deluxe Suites have terraces that overlook the beautiful Beauvais Fountain and garden.

Desserts prepared by Pastry Chef Joachim Bendacha are a delicious finish to the meal at La Table du Connetable.
Desserts prepared by Pastry Chef Joachim Bendacha are a delicious finish to the meal at La Table du Connetable.

Our grand finale of the day was a spa treatment at the Valmont Spa. We were surprised there wasn’t Chantilly cream on the menu during lunch but we were delighted the cream was included on the list of spa treatments instead! The 90-minute Thousand & One Chantilly treatment for 225 euros starts with an invigorating exfoliation, followed by a relaxing massage ending with cold Chantilly cream smeared on you, head to toe. Apparently the cream acts as a moisturizer and our skin felt silky smooth for many days after. One last treat was the special pastry expressly created by Pastry Chef Joachim Bendacha to indulge in after the treatment.

Another great advantage about Auberge du Jeu de Paume is the close proximity to Charles De Gaulle Airport, only 20 minutes away, and a great alternative to standard airport hotels. The hotel offers a special “Last Night in France” package.

Luxury travel advisors may contact Nicole Wilms-Kaufmann ([email protected]) directly for bookings.

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