The first time I saw the Chateau de Chantilly, I was enchanted by its setting, perched in a wide moat of water, woodland stretching out in the distance.
On closer inspection, one sees that it is largely a 19th century confection – the earlier Chateau was destroyed in the French Revolution.
The grounds extend to 115 hectares of parkland and formal gardens. If time, or fitness, is limited, hire a golf cart for an hour and off you go… into the woodland of the Petit Parc.
Small clearings in the woodland provide interest; here a statue of a boar resides amongst recently pleached trees.
Further on there is the Chinese- English garden and the Hameau, forerunner to Marie Antoinette’s rustic hameau at Versailles, and the place where Crème Chantilly was reputedly first tasted in the 18th century. Chantilly lace, is a name also associated with the Chateau – in the 17th century, the Duchesse de Longueville organised the manufacture of it in Chantilly and it became popular in the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, and a great favourite of Mme du Barry and Marie Antoinette.
The path leads downhill to the sound of rushing water and the wide space of the Grand Canal, 1.5 miles long.
I love water in a garden and particularly the contrast between movement, with its energy and sound, and still water, with its calm, reflective qualities.
The woodland walks stretch away to the east but surrounding the Chateau, one sees the hand of the great French landscaper, André le Nôtre, who designed these formal gardens of parterres, fountains and immense canal, for the Prince of Condé in the 17th century. Under the Grand Condé, Chantilly became a literary meeting place, with balls and firework displays in this lovely setting.
The parterre a la française is a formal layout of vast water mirrors reflecting the skies and leading the eye past the canal, from the statue of Anne, duc de Montmorency, behind on the terrace, to the Honour gate on the hill.
Fountains bring energy and sound to the scene. Notice how the Grand Parterre does not line up with the Chateau, Le Nôtre’s only garden that is in line with a statue and not the Chateau.
The small knot garden overlooked by the Chateau :
During the Revolution of the 1790s, the park was largely destroyed, cut in two and some of the land parcelled off. The Great Chateau was levelled to the ground. The town of Chantilly developed on its western side.
In the early 19th century, as part of the restoration, the Jardin Anglais was created. It is therefore surprising, if not incongruous, to wander from the formality of the Terrace to a different landscape. The English Landscape garden, jardin anglais, of the 18th century had swept away the geometric lines and formal parterres of manyEnglish estates and sought to replace them with an idealised view of nature with groups of trees, lakes, temples and rolling lawns. The design is a little ‘wilder’, softer than the formality of the jardin a la française. So at Chantilly’s jardin anglais we stroll into a more natural landscape with the Temple of Love, featuring a callipygian Venus, tranquilly reflected in a romantic pond.
A little further on we find the statue of Eros, in a trellised gazebo, on the Island of Love, idyllically reflected in the calm waters. No doubt the scene of romantic trysts both modern and historic.
It is said that Chantilly was Le Nôtre’s favourite creation and it would have been wonderful to have seen it in its heyday in the 17th century.
There is much to see at Chantilly apart from the gardens – the Chateau houses the Cabinet des Livres with over 10,000 volumes including a facsimile of the 15th century Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, an outstanding art collection, the magnificent Grand Stables with its equestrian museum and riding displays and of course Chantilly racecourse.
But go for the gardens – there is something for everyone… formal, wild, fanciful or romantic.
(All photography mine; feel free to use any of Jardin’s images but please credit and link back)