Chantilly is a beautiful town about 50kms north of Paris. It’s an easy 45mins drive or an hour by train. The town is famous for a number of things – the beautiful Château de Chantilly, Chantilly cream and Chantilly lace! Chantilly cream is a delicious version of whipped cream that has been sweetened. There are several stories about the origin of this cream and how it got its name. You can read the official version here. The Chantilly lace is a kind of handmade bobbin lace well known for its intricate detailing and patterns.
We didn’t go to Chantilly for the château or the cream or the lace – we went there for its forest! However, we did admire the beautiful chateau – from the outside. Mia wasn’t allowed inside and having seen enough chateaux in Loire we weren’t really keen.
On first glance, the Château de Chantilly is really beautiful. Designed by architect Jean Bullant, the chateau was built in 1560 for a member of François I’s court, high constable Anne de Montmorency. In the 18th century the Condé family, cousins of Louis XV and Louis XVI, acquired the property. During the French revolution, the main wing of the chateau was destroyed. It was later rebuilt by the last individual owner, the Duc d’Aumale, who bequeathed it to the Institut de France in 1886. The Château de Chantilly now houses the extensive collection of the Musée Condé.
The stables built to house 240 horses and more than 400 hounds, are also open to the public. In 1834, a racecourse was built and races of the French Jockey Club are held in June every year. Chantilly is one of France’s principal horse-training centres.
A quick lunch in town and a haircut later – K’s decided that since he doesn’t have time over weekends in Paris, he must get a haircut in every new city/town we visit – we finally made our way to the forest.
This 1,000-year old forest is 6,344 hectares in size and consists mainly of oak trees with some pines and beeches. There are beautiful trails and tracks throughout the forest and it’s used for walking, hiking, biking and horse riding. Some tracks are exclusively reserved for horse training everyday until 1pm and its forbidden to walk on those.
There are also four étangs or ponds in the forest known as the Etangs de Commelles. These were created in the 13th century by the monks of Chaalis Abbey to be used as fish ponds. The waterbodies are laid out one after the other and makes for a beautiful walk while taking in the diverse flors & fauna of the region.
We were enjoying the peace and quiet and were happy to be away from the city, even if it was for a few hours. But the peace didn’t last long. Normally Mia is really well behaved and comes right back when called. But not that day – she heard something in the bushes and just shot off like an arrow before we even realised.
When she didn’t respond to all our whistling and screaming, we had no choice but to follow her into the bushes. The forest is really dense and if you stray from the main paths, you will need to hack your way through thick bramble and spiky bushes. We couldn’t hear or see her for what felt like ages and were pretty panicked but we continued to push our way through the thicket. Then suddenly, a herd of deer just galloped past us. I was sure Mia had fallen into a ditch or worse, been kicked by one of these animals and was lying unconscious somewhere. We carried on calling her and then finally there she was – she just stood there rooted at the spot where the herd had just been grazing. Weirdly, she wasn’t moving at all and only when I was right upon her did she realise we had found her! Thankfully, she wasn’t hurt or anything and we were super relieved but also really mad at her. I don’t think she realised but the drive back in the car was the quietest one ever.