Just 25 minutes by train from Paris, the Domaine de Chantilly and L’Auberge du Jeu de Paume provide a delicious and historic cultural experience just a stone’s throw from the French capital.
Every so often, the need to suspend time surges powerfully within us. For Parisians and visitors, there is no place better than Chantilly, an effortless 25-minute train journey from the Gare du Nord, for escaping the urban tumult. Like an antechamber, the hotel sits in the shadow of the expansive château and its Condé Museum, an elegant example of countryside luxury. The promise of 284 acres of gardens and the five-star estate’s peace and quiet was enough to get me on the first train to Chantilly.
And what gardens! While there are three different landscape styles that make up the gardens in the hotel’s backyard, I find the 17th-century French-style flowerbeds designed by André Le Nôtre the most compelling, with mirrored ponds, stone sculptures, and unexpected perspectives at every turn.
I headed into the Condé Museum, a series of ornate rooms and lavish corridors that housed the personal collection of the Duke of Aumale. Today, the galleries contain the second-largest collection of antique paintings after the Louvre, all hung on the walls just as they were in the 19th century. And, like all bibliophiles, the Duke made sure his home featured a robust library and reading room, shelves still brimming with nearly 19,000 works from his collection.
Making my way back to the hotel with tired feet, passing the Great Stables, the largest in Europe, and the Museum of the Horse, I kicked up my feet in the Jardin d’Hiver bar with a book and a chilled drink – the perfect transition from a regal afternoon to what would be a regal evening.
If the perspectives in Le Nôtre’s gardens were surprising and unexpected, so too was the culinary experience led by Chef Julien Lucas at La Table du Connétable, which earned its first Michelin star last year. “You’ll see what I mean when you sit down to dine, but my objective was to honor the Picardie region and its broad variety of plants, herbs, meats, and vegetables,” the chef told me. “It’s a little-known region, but full of potential. The more I look, the more I discover. The relationship I have with two market gardeners dictates much of the menu.”
That locavore experience began with delicate, bite-sized starters that incorporated linden, hops and endive, beet and fir, and duck foie gras, all carefully placed and served atop a bronze horseshoe to recall the restaurant’s surroundings. Pan-seared carp, the chef’s specialty, was among the revelatory dishes and the result of nearly two years of work to perfect the recipe. “It’s one of the dishes I love to serve to really introduce diners to the region,” explained Chef Lucas. “Freshwater fish are just as tasty as saltwater fish!”
That love for the local extends to the dessert offering, which had botanical leanings: caramelized endive with chicory, caramel, and chocolate was as original a gustatory experience as the carp.
Sated and happy, it was time to settle into my room for the evening. Surrounding an intimate inner courtyard, the 92 rooms are nods to a classic style that complements the décor visitors discover inside the château – soft, off-white walls, striking toile de Jouy headboards and curtains, Louis XV armchairs meant for lingering, equestrian accouterments, and period-relevant paintings.
After a peaceful night’s sleep in the calm of this inimitable countryside, I pulled back the curtains on my first morning and was greeted with a stunning green veil. Softly chirping birds and the gentle trickle of water from the fountain just beneath my balcony competed for my attention. In the early morning, with only the hushed whispers from other early-risers making their way across the grounds, it felt like the gardens were entirely mine – a special treat. To conclude this relaxing getaway in the finest manner possible, I go to the Spa Valmont, where a swimming pool and wellbeing facilities are available to guests.
By the end of the stay, it was clear: the crown jewel of Picardie, where time slows to a halt, isn’t only the storied estate but the Auberge du Jeu de Paume where history and all that is local is interpreted in inventive ways.