Why Chantilly is better than Versailles
Few things make you feel as helpless as getting your phone pick-pocketed right in front of you and not being able to do anything about it.
I woke up late that morning, wishing for the first time since arriving in Paris that I was back home in Atlanta. My eyelids were heavy from too little sleep, but I wasn't going to let that thief steal any more of my trip. I resolved to be the master of my own fate. I tapped Caleb on the shoulder.
Do you want to go to Chantilly?
It'll be quiet in the country. I doubt it's crowded today.
Yeah, I guess we shouldn't just stay here.
There's nothing more you can do.
You're right. I don't want it to ruin the trip.
Down to the street and into the Gare du Nord. After a minimal mount of turning in circles, we found the massive Grande Lines trains and got the special TER tickets. (For tips on navigating the train lines from Gare du Nord, check out this article on the Secrets of Paris blog). An hour of farmland later, we stepped onto a small, gray platform surrounded by gray, lightly misting skies.
Two walking paths lead to the chateau: one runs through the small, french-country town, and the other follows the shorter and more atmospheric horse trails through the forest. Since Caleb seemed ready to make like Thoreau and live alone in the woods for two years, we chose the horse trail.
The forest was at peak fall and was showing off a bit. The horse-chestnut trees were changing their leaves and the smushed horse-chestnuts along the path mingled with the wet leaves and made a fragrant mulch.
It began to rain in earnest and we picked up the pace. The path joined up next to the road for a bit and then, out of nowhere, rounded a corner to reveal the full panorama of the grounds, the ornate stables, and the Renaissance-era chateau.
Given the choice, I would rather see Chantilly than Versailles. And maybe that's my Sagittarius talking, but hear me out. The chateau is more architecturally interesting than Versailles. It is everything you want in a castle - asymmetrical from every angle, it has its own Gothic chapel that juts out toward the road, and all sides except the front gateway disappear into a real-life moat.
Chantilly is stunning in the rain - all grays and steel blues and subdued green. The gardens, which were designed by Le Nôtre, are less ostentatious and more natural than those he designed for Versailles. The rooms of the chateau, which were not pillaged during the Revolution, are furnished. My favorite room in the house is the extensive private library, with its two-story, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and embroidered reading chairs, overlooking the English garden. I was seriously considering having a Beauty and the Beast moment and gesturing dramatically from one of the library's ladders.
If Versailles is imposing, Chantilly is romantic. And your atmospheric stroll across the grounds á la Mr. Darcy won't be interrupted by a crowd of tourists. On any given day, Chantilly will be less crowded than Versailles. And on a rainy All Saints' Day, we shared the premises with maybe twenty others, mainly native Frenchmen.
After exploring the house, we made our way across the grounds to the Great Stables, which are larger than the house itself and just as tall. The largest stables in Europe, Chantilly still houses stallions and mares for the daily equestrian shows, but a large part of the stables have been converted into a Museum of the Horse, which explores the relationship between horse and rider from the beginning of civilization to the present day.
Caleb and I stopped in the Stables' cafe for a tarte aux framboises before the long train ride back to Paris. He asked for my phone to look at the pictures he'd taken. His now belonged to a Parisian pickpocket. But fresh air, wide open spaces, ancient castles, and horses are all marvelous at providing perspective.
For more information on Chateau de Chantilly, go to http://www.domainedechantilly.com/en/.