I was invited by the sales manager of Auberge du Jeu de Paume, a Relais & Chateaux Hotel, to spend the day in Chantilly last Wednesday. I’ve only been to Chantilly once to see a fireworks competition in 2006 and didn’t see the inside of the chateau, so I was excited to see it during the day.
I took the train from Gard du Nord, which only took 24 minutes, less time than it takes get to Versailles or Fontainebleau by train.
The hotel arranged a private tour of the chateau starting at 10:30AM. The beginnings of chateau are traced back to 1386 when a fortress was first constructed and later inherited by Guillaume de Montmorency in 1484, who had the first chateau built on the property between 1528 and 1531. He later commissioned the building of the petit chateau in 1560. It was then inherited by the Louis Bourbon, Prince of Conde, inviting the greatest artists of the time to show their paintings at. The chateau was destroyed during The Revolution. Henri d’ Orleans, the Duke of Aumale inherited the property in the 1830s and had the chateau rebuilt as a museum from 1875- 1881. Sadly the duke’s two sons died before him and there were no heirs to the throne, so he bequeathed the chateau to the Institut de France.
Having the most important art collection after the Louvre, I was dazzled room after room of paintings by Raphael, Watteau, Poussin, Fragonard, Corot, Delacroix, Ingres, and Van Dyck. I was shown the library, which contains a collection of 50,000 books and over 15,000 manuscripts, the second largest collection n France. My favorite room was the Monkey Room with chinoiserie figures of monkeys on the walls.
After my informative tour of the chateau I went to the perfectly manicured gardens, designed by Andre Le Notre, who designed the gardens of Versailles. At a certain moment a flock of birds crossed the horizon of the castle, looking like a fairy tale come true. I later read the design of the Disney castle was partially based on Chantilly. I just had enough time to fit in the famous horse stables and museum, where I got some great shots of the horses. There is also a racetrack on the site of Chantilly and home to two of the most prestigious horse shows in France: Le Prix de Diane and Le Prix du Jockey Club.
Famished after the chateau and horse stables, I met Nicole Wilms back at the hotel for lunch. I was introduced to Nicole through a mutual friend who is a travel agent from Puerto Rico who now lives in Paris. 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, also located in the hotel. I feasted on a light and lovely appetizer of crumbled crab with avocado served with a pink radish jelly followed by a hearty wild boar bourguignon served with spaetzle. Dessert was an irresistible flaky pastry with warm apple tatin inside. We discussed our upbringings, and Nicole was born and raised in Germany of German and Dutch parents. She moved to Paris pursuing a career in the hospitality industry, working for various luxury hotels throughout Paris. Nicole was approached by the hotel, which was newly built three years ago on the site of the former police headquarters, to become the sales manager. It’s the only five-star and Relais & Chateau hotel in Chantilly, with an ideal location right next to the entrance of the park where the chateau and the horse stables and museum are located. Nicole I had something in common, we worked with many of the same luxury travel agents in the U.S.
After lunch Nicole gave me a tour of the hotel, showing me the sumptuously designed deluxe rooms and suites. A real treat was a glimpse of the Presidential/ Aumale suite, handsomely decorated with wood, chintz, and silk, featuring a formal dining room, separate kitchen, living room and private dressing room.
The best part of my visit was saved for last: a massage at the spa. I’ve experienced many unusual types of massages and spa treatments over the years but the one at the Valmont Spa was a first: The Thousand and One Chantilly. It starts with an exfoliating treatment where the masseuse vigorously kneads you to get the dead skin off, followed by a relaxing massage and at the end the literal crème de la crème: a slathering of chilled Chantilly cream all over my body to moisturize it. The cream was cold going on but afterwards when I got dressed, my skin felt silky and smooth. I smelled like cream and honey (honey was used in part of the treatment) on the way home on the train.
Auberge du Jeu de Paume is a perfect overnight getaway a stones throw away from Paris, taking you into beautiful French countryside in just 24 minutes. A great way to take your time seeing the wonders of Chantilly along with an excellent meal, a delicious massage, and a lovely hotel.
Auberge du Jeu de Paume
4 rue du Connetable, 60500 Chantilly
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