Welcome to my Place . . . Chantilly, France

‘The chateau forms the centre of Chantilly . . . you want to visit as soon as you arrive’

The Chantilly chateau horse museum.

The Chantilly chateau horse museum.

 

Bill Nelson worked in France until 2012 and had an apartment in Chantilly with his wife, Marie, for eight years. He walked the streets, chateau grounds, forest and environs of Chantilly in his spare time and says the history of the chateau fascinated him “as it reflected the history of France”.

Where is the first place you bring people when they visit Chantilly?

Chantilly, about 50km north of Paris, is a sizeable town within easy striking distance of many interesting places, including Paris itself. The chateau forms the centre of Chantilly. It is hard to miss and you want to visit as soon as you arrive. It is simply magnificent.

Set in a huge parkland and massive forest, it has extensive gardens and a circular canal system controlled by its in-house water pumping station. The water irrigates a large allotment facility outside the chateau, worked by local townspeople.

The allotments are a wonderful and interesting patchwork maze of amateur agricultural activity and they are very accessible on foot as they are almost in the town.

Bill and Marie Nelson (right) with two of their French neighbours, Bernadette and Hubert Grillo.
Bill and Marie Nelson (right) with two of their French neighbours, Bernadette and Hubert Grillo.

Get a taste of Chantilly in . . .

Called Histoire 2 on Avenue du Marechal Joffre, Chantilly, this little restaurant is not too fussy. The food is excellent and contemporary – salads fresh and varied, mains attractive and sufficient and desserts for all tastes. There are wines to suit lunch and dinner of good quality at reasonable prices .

The best place to get a sense of the history of Chantilly

The region is Picardie, the department is number 60 and takes its name, the Oise, from the river, which flows through the Nonette valley. It’s a tributary of this river that was canalised in 1671 for irrigation, the creation of garden waterfalls and fountains and still benefits the town of Chantilly 200 years later.

The top three things to do there that don’t cost money, are . . .

Simply taking in the town and its environs on foot, one cannot fail to feel the sense of history associated with the place. As well as the chateau, there is a first World War history trail through the streets, indicated by strategically placed signs telling the story of French commanding officers’ activities.

Walking through the chateau’s extensive gardens and grounds is a wonderful experience. Construction started in 1382 and didn’t finish until 1882. Chantilly chateau also has a race course and is popular with Irish owners, trainers and race-goers, who flock there for big race meetings.

The Prix du Jockey, also known as the French Derby, held in early June, is one such race. This year’s race saw Cape Of Good Hope , the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt, compete. Many race meetings have free entry because the race course is part of a large parkland in front of the chateau. There are also prestigious horse shows, also free of charge, at the Hippodrome de Chantilly.

We could not leave Chantilly without mentioning the enormous forest there. If you are driving at night be aware of wild boar or sanglier; the forest is teeming with them.

What should visitors keep room in their suitcase for after a visit to Chantilly?

Crème Chantilly, There are many proprietary options available in supermarkets, but it can be made easily using whipped crème fraiche (thick) and icing sugar and was said to be first prepared by the maître du Chateau de Chantilly in the XVII century.

If you’d like to share your little black book of places to visit where you live overseas, please email your answers to the five questions above to abroad@irishtimes.com, including a brief description of what you do there and a photograph of yourself. We would love to hear from you.

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