This past week of funemployment has been a bit of a château shuffle. Originally I was meant to hit up Chantilly with a friend last Friday, but when she bailed I tagged along with Steph to Chartres. Then my plan was to go to Fontainebleau on Wednesday to tour the castle and visit some family friends I had previously met in Azay, but some last minute changes forced us to reschedule for next week. The net result: I salvaged yesterday by going to Chantilly instead, and thus dodged another day of staying in on the pretext of avoiding this suboptimal "springtime" Paris weather while really just watching Glee or Game of Thrones (usually both - I watch one while the other loads).
So what about Chantilly? Started in 1358, finished in 1882. I'm not exactly sure who lived there but for a long time the estate was linked to the Montmorency family. Nowadays it's under the care of the Institut de France and the château houses the Musée Condé, an impressive art collection. In addition to the gallery, accessible rooms include the library, chapel, great hall, war room, music room, and what were once I suppose private apartments. Have a look.
An English friend once complained to me that wherever Americans go in Europe, all they do is rave about "OMG - the history" of whatever they happen to be standing next to. It's true, I confess, but in our defense we really have nothing like these grand palaces and cathedrals - many of which are even older than our country - at home. I think that's why I continue to seek them out wherever I go.
The château was modest in size (or maybe it just seemed that way because a relatively small proportion is accessible to the public), but it looked quite striking from afar what with the partial moat and sweeping stone-paved driveway leading up to it. Coupled with the geometrically designed park surrounding it (by André Le Nôtre of Versailles fame), no wonder Chantilly has been featured in film and celebrity weddings. However since most castle-oglers stop only at Versailles, Chantilly has the added benefit of being virtually empty.
But to pâtissiers like myself, Chantilly has another meaning - the sweetened whipped cream invented centuries ago by a chef whose name I have a strong feeling once appeared on a written exam at school and that I embarrassingly cannot recall at the moment. So when I saw the on-site restaurant advertising "la vraie crème Chantilly" I knew I had to try it even though, like most food in France, it is absurdly overpriced.
How do I describe the delectable confection? It's not like whipped cream, per se, in that it's denser - more mousse-like than anything else - with a pleasant vanilla flavor. (But also I'm pretty sure cream here has a higher fat content than what's used in the US). The server gave me a giant scoop, perhaps because I was the sole patron in the establishment, and even though I didn't finish it I still felt slightly sick after. So rich. Good thing I decided to walk back to the train station.
The castle grounds also feature the hamlet (cluster of peasant-style buildings for rich people to play in) that inspired Marie Antoinette's, a still-used racecourse (curiously named the Hippodrome) and the Musée Vivant du Cheval (literally: Museum of the Living Horse). I refused to set foot in the latter because ever since a traumatic childhood incident involving an outing to Medieval Times and subsequent severe allergic reaction, I have been averse to horses. But if equestrian is your thing you should totally check it out.