Only 24 minutes from Paris, and 20 minutes from the overcrowded Charles de Gaulle Airport, a fairy tale palace awaits you in the bucolic French countryside. Often overlooked by visitors for more touristy palaces such as Versailles and Fontainebleau, the Chateau de Chantilly’s place in French history and its stature as a royal chateau is just as impressive.
The origin of the Chateau de Chantilly dates back to 1386 when a fortress was built on the property that was later inherited by Baron Guillaume de Montmorency in 1484. Montmorency tore down the fortress to build his private chateau between 1528 and 1531, and later commissioned the construction of the petit chateau in 1560. Louis Bourbon, Prince of Condé was the next heir, and he invited the greatest artists of the time to exhibit their paintings there. The chateau was demolished during The French Revolution and Henri d’ Orléans, Duke of Aumale inherited the property in the 1830s. The chateau was rebuilt from 1875 to 1881 to serve as a museum. Tragically the Duke’s two sons died before him and since there was no heir apparent to the throne, he bequeathed the chateau to the Institut de France.
Chateau de Chantilly retains the second most important art collection in France after the Louvre with masterpieces by Raphael, Watteau, Poussin, Fragonard, Corot, Delacroix, Ingres, and Van Dyck. An extensive library contains over 50,000 books, many of them first editions, and 15,000 manuscripts. The magnificent grounds have formal French gardens designed by Le Notre, who created the royal gardens of Versailles and Fontainebleau.
Steeped in all this history and magnificence is a special hotel, Auberge du Jeu de Paume (4 rue du Connetable, Chantilly, France. Tel: +33-4-4465-5000. www.aubergedujeudepaumechantilly.fr). Situated next to the grand stone archway leading to Chateau de Chantilly, the hotel has the closest proximity to the chateau, just an eight-minute walk. The name of the hotel is derived from the original Jeu de Paume, a royal indoor tennis court completed in 1757, and now an exhibition space.
Opened in 2012 on the site of a former police station, the elegant and understated décor of Auberge du Jeu de Paume makes guests feel as though they are entering a restored 18th-century chateau rather than a newly built hotel. Striving to go beyond just another luxury hotel, General Director Pascal Groëll explains that this is “a new, entirely fitting experience at the heart of Chantilly, which enriches the Estate’s standing as an upscale tourist destination.” The hotel quickly rose to high-luxury status by becoming a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateau Hotel organization in 2013, while also achieving a five star rating the same year.
The task of creating the 18th-century environment was executed by architect Didier Poignant from the ERTIM architecture firm, who has also redesigned other classic hotels such as The Grand Hotel, The Crillon, and the Royal Monceau in Paris, plus the Trianon Palace and Hotel in Versailles. Working to adhere to national architecture and heritage laws of the period, Pignant has placed Henryot and Collonet furniture, Murano mirrors, and Burgundy limestone throughout the hotel.
The 68 rooms and 24 suites feature plush carpeting, burgundy or blue toile de Jouy fabrics of pastoral scenes, and Louis XV oak armchairs. Many of the rooms overlook the Beauvais fountain and enchanting chateau gardens. Spacious bathrooms are outfitted in Carrara marble from Italy and feature Hermes Eau d’Orange verte bath and body products.
If you want to live like royalty, check into the Presidential/Aumale Suite (named after the Duke of Aumale), a handsome 1,400square-foot suite (it can be enlarged to 2,150 square feet with adjoining rooms) with a chintz covered headboard in the bedroom suite, formal dining room with Chippendale-style chairs, a full kitchen, living room, and private dressing room.
Under the guidance of Arnaud Faye, the hotel’s Table du Connétable received a Michelin star within six months of opening and a second star in 2014. Faye departed the hotel in the spring of 2016 and was replaced by Clement Leroy, formerly the head chef at Guy Savoy in Paris. Leroy grew up in a culinary family; his father was a butcher and his grandmother a cook for an upper class French family. “I joined Auberge du Jeu de Paume and La Table du Connetable to make my best food. My objective is that every customer leaves with a smile after having experienced my food. I just make what I like,” says Leroy and one of his current favorite ingredients is pink oysters, which he uses for oysters pot-au-feu style. Other current dishes include scallops with white truffles from Alba, multi-color beets with red cow Parmesan cheese, venison braised in aged whiskey, and his father’s favorite dish, beef with caviar and potatoes. Although none of the desserts have Chantilly cream on them, the chestnut and granny smith apple soufflé tart, plums steeped in local beer, and roasted figs with hibiscus won’t disappoint.
To make up for the lack of Chantilly cream for dessert at the restaurant, the Valmont Spa offers the Thousand & One Chantilly treatment for €225. The 90minute treatment starts with an invigorating exfoliation, followed by a relaxing massage ending with cold Chantilly cream smeared from head to toe. Apparently the cream acts as a moisturizer and your skin will feel silky smooth for many days after. In case that isn’t decadent enough, a final treat is a special sweet created by pastry chef Joachim Bendacha.
After your treatment, relax in the sauna, and Turkish steam bath, then take a refreshing swim in the indoor swimming pool while you dream of what to see next in this beautiful part of France.