Chāteaux Near Paris: Escape the Crowds

If you’re planning to be in Paris for any length of time, you’ll likely end up looking for day trip options to explore the surrounding areas.

Most people head to Versailles. Understandably. Known for being the historical country home to French Royals, Versailles is loved for its over-the-top opulence: carefully manicured and sprawling gardens, lush interior decor with furniture swathed in rich fabrics or gilded in gold, and art that is both stunning and priceless.

It’s also heaving with people. 10 million visitors per year kind of heaving. Which makes it difficult for many to truly appreciate their visit.

So I thought I’d follow up on my last post, Paris: Escape the Crowds, and offer a few châteaux alternatives to Versailles. Châteaux that are equally as beautiful, rich in history, and much more manageable. I’m confident that you’ll fall in love with any of them, and won’t feel like you’ve sacrificed your time by visiting.

Châteaux de Chantilly

Approximately 50km north of Paris you’ll find the beautiful Château de Chantilly, once the country home of the Duke of Aumale (son to the last King of France, Louis-Philippe). The Château is surrounded by a staggering 115 hectares, dotted with pools, fountains and specialised gardens. There’s plenty to see and do here.

One of the showstoppers is the Conde Musee, an highly regarded museum home to mainly French and Italian works. Be sure to keep an eye open for Three Graces by Rafael.

For bibliophiles, you’ll love the Reading Room. The Duke of Aumale collected a staggering 60,000 volumes during his lifetime and, of those, almost 19,000 are on public display today.

A short distance away you’ll find the Great Stables and its Museum of the Horse, which presents the centuries long relationship between horses and humans. Live performances can be seen in the Equestrian Loop throughout the day.

On your way back to the train station in town, do yourself a favour and stop in at a bakery for a delicious pastry featuring what else .. Chantilly cream!

Vaux-le-Vicomte

This Baroque château is located about 55 km southeast of Paris, and is definitely worth a visit if only for the scandalous history alone!

Long story short.. Esteemed member of Paris Parliament builds this sprawling estate, hiring the best of the best craftsmen of the time. Jealous colleague convinces the King that the château was built with state funds. King believes the jealous colleague, throws the man into prison for embezzlement and seizes the estate. Jealous colleague is promoted to take over now-jailed man’s position in the government (which was his end goal all along), and the King hires the same dream team of craftsmen to build his own estate .. a little place you might have heard of called Versailles, ahem.

So in a roundabout way, a visit to Vaux-le-Vicomte is almost the same as going to Versailles. Or at least it’s an opportunity to see its inspiration.

But if that’s not enough to call you, perhaps it’s the opportunity to visit the largest private estate listed as an historic monument in France. Or climbing the stairs of the central dome and looking out across the formal french gardens that spread out for 3 km from the Chateau.

Inside, the Chateau is centred around the bright and airy Grand Salon. Each room you move through is decorated elaborately from floor to ceiling, so much so that it’s almost dizzying.

I recommend getting an audio guide when you arrive so you can feel like you’ve been transported back centuries while listening to the characters who give some life to this magnificent Chateau.

Fontainebleau

55 km southeast of Paris is where you’ll find Château de Fontainebleau, one of the largest French Royal Château and home to many Kings throughout its history.

It’s often thought of as the hunting lodge of the Royals, with the surrounding forest once being full of game. It’s also known as the location where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled from.

Outside the Château is a large carp pond, which was used by the Royal Court for boating parties. Even today, you can rent a small boat to float along while pretending to be one of the elite.

If you prefer being on terra firma, there are lots of places to wander around the estate.

Plan ahead and bring a packed lunch to enjoy before heading inside.

If you’re hell bent on visiting Versailles, do yourself a favour and book a morning behind-the-scenes tour directly. Your small tour will give you the opportunity to learn from an expert and explore areas of the palace not seen by the public. It’s a great introduction to your day before you join the masses who, in many cases, won’t have the same knowledge of what they’re surrounded by that you will. And then prepare yourself to join a sea of people.

Of course, there are many more châteaux near to Paris that are worth visiting. If you’ve been to any not listed above, share your recommendations in the comment section below. I’m always looking for more to visit.

Château de Chantilly – Under the Dome

Before we head inside for a dressage demonstration, I thought I’d share a photo of one of the horses practicing its fancy trot outside. I say trot but, let’s be serious. It could have been a simple walk, or a canter or a trot. I don’t know the difference, but my limited horse related knowledge (and fairly decent deduction skills) tell me this isn’t a gallop!

Inside, under the impressive 28 metre dome, we found seats and waited for the performance to begin – along with every small child from this area of the country. Thankfully they were well-behaved under the watchful eyes of their teachers.

A pretty fountain adorned the wall next to us.

And looking up at the dome above was interesting.

The children I started getting restless and thought the show would never begin. Just as I had given up all hope, 2 horses appeared!

The commentary was en français, which we couldn’t understand. Sadly there soon wasn’t enough to keep us entertained, so we made an early exit and headed back towards town.

Because the fabled Chantilly Cream was screaming our names. If you’re interested in revisiting that droolworthy post, it can be found here.

This marks the last of my Château de Chantilly visit, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Check back tomorrow for my next Thursday Doors installation.

Bonne journée!

Marla

Château de Chantilly – One Last Look

Sadly, it’s almost time to say goodbye to the château and move onto another area of the sprawling estate. But before we do, let’s take a look at some of the interesting things that I saw that didn’t fit in nicely with any of my previous posts.

I hope you’ve enjoyed following along with me on my trip down memory lane. I’ll be back tomorrow with the horse museum. Until then..

Bonne journée!

Marla

Thursday Doors – Chantilly

I know, I know. My contribution to Thursday Doors last week was also from Château de Chantilly. But this week’s door is different, and you’ll soon see why I wanted to share it.

While last week’s door was over the top shiny and gold, understandably not to everyone’s taste, this week’s is more natural.

I immediately noticed the carving, with the crown and Fleur de Lys (which is pretty standard for French Châteaux in my experience).

But another feature I really liked was the door’s hardware.

(Eek.. sorry for the blurriness)

Aren’t they lovely with their intricate details? If I wasn’t feeling so lazy right now, I’d get up and take a photo of the door to our apartment to share as comparison. It’s depressingly boring and drab. Le sigh.

Tomorrow I’ve got the third Alphabet series post scheduled to be published, but will be back the day after that with more Château de Chantilly. Until then..

Bonne journée!

Marla

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments section over at Norm’s blog, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time).

Château de Chantilly – The Chapel

Much of Château de Chantilly was demolished after The Revolution, and when it was later rebuilt in the late 1800s it was architect Honoré Daumet who was tasked with creating a chapel that would not only serve as a place of worship – but also as a new home for the Condé Hearts.

Continue reading “Château de Chantilly – The Chapel”

Château de Chantilly – The Reading Room

We already know that The Duke of Aumale was a fan and collector of fine art. But I was surprised to learn that he was also an enthusiastic bibliophile. In fact, during his life he collected a staggering 60,000 volumes. Of those, almost 19,000 are on public display.

The Reading Room at Château de Chantilly is everything you’d expect of a fancy rich person. Floor to ceiling shelves, rich wood, moody lighting, display cabinets and a nice place to sit by the fire.

One of the most impressive pieces in The Duke’s collection is The Très Riches Heures of Jean, Duc de Berry. Originally commissioned by John, Duke of Berry and created by the Limbourg Brothers between 1412 and 1416, The Book of Hours eventually made its way into The Duke’s collection at Château de Chantilly in 1856.

If I’m correct in my understanding, the book of hours was popular during Middle Ages and was a collection of Christian prayers to be said at specific times throughout the day (canonical hours).

On display is a replica, as the original is considered too valuable to show. Understandable, given that conserving such an important historical piece is more important than allowing people like me to drool on it.

But even for a replica, I was taken by the intricate details of the miniature paintings and the way the colours jump from the parchment pages.

Bonne journée!

Marla

Château de Chantilly – The Gallery of Painting and The Rotunda

The Gallery of Painting is the main event of the Condé Gallery at Château de Chantilly. It’s the largest room of the chateau and features 85 pieces of the collection that once belonged to the Duke of Aumale.

Continue reading “Château de Chantilly – The Gallery of Painting and The Rotunda”

King Henry IV Wax Mask

Wax masks (often referred to as death masks) were once the preferred way to memorialize a person’s likeness, and could be used to create statues or busts or other pieces of artwork long after the person had passed away.

Newer technology means that documenting physical features can now easily be done with forensic photography.

Continue reading “King Henry IV Wax Mask”

Château de Chantilly – The Stag Gallery

Imagine, if you will, that you’re an esteemed artistic or intellectual member of society back at the end of the 19th Century. You’ve received an invite from the Duke of Aumale to visit him at his impressive country home on the outskirts of Chantilly this coming Sunday.

Continue reading “Château de Chantilly – The Stag Gallery”