Why Chantilly is a sure bet when visiting Paris.
When you visit Paris there are so many wonders to enjoy and so many sights to inspire that side trips out of the city are not usually on the agenda.
But if you have been to Paris before or if you have an extended amount of time and a race meeting is scheduled, a day at the races in Chantilly is an absolute must-add to that agenda.
We lucked out with a double; one of the two most prestigious race meets on the France Galop calendar, the Prix de Diane Longines, and a perfect blue sky, summer day.
Arriving at the race course, one of the oldest in France, the view was to die for. It looked like a fairytale carnival.
There was an old world ferris wheel. There were dressage events with competitors in full Victorian regalia in a custom-made arena.
For the kids, there were bunny rabbit and chicken petting enclosures, trampolines and plenty of grassed space to run around.
There were champagne bars and wine docks. There was fashion on the field and elegant millinery. There were deck chairs for sunning yourself and hay bales to eat your pre-bought or prepared-at-home picnic baskets. There were birdcages and characters dressed in race-going costumes of yesteryear to add even more colour to photographs.
Of course, there was a full race card and while we had absolutely no clue as to the form, pedigree or lineage of any of the thoroughbreds or jockeys we bet on every race and even managed to win two of the seven on the program.
That’s the carnival. The fairytale was the setting.
The Chantilly racecourse is surrounded by a forest and bordered by a castle.
The majestic Grand Chateau, one of the most popular historical estates in France, was built around 1560 but destroyed in the French revolution and rebuilt in the 1870s. It now houses the Musee de Conde, one of the finest art collections in the country and is open to the public so worth a visit even if there are no races to bet on. But go early on a race day to look around.
It has a formal garden and water features and the estate not only overlooks the racecourse, which was founded in 1834, but the Great Stables, which is almost as beguiling a building as the castle.
At a massive 186 metres long, you can only imagine the majesty of the time with horses being stabled there in the early 1700s. Now called the Living Museum of the Horse it pays homage to its royal equine past.
Today Chantilly is still a hub for the horse racing industry with more than two thousand horses in the training centre and well known among the world’s racing set.
But perhaps even more impressive than all of that.
The Chateau and the Great Stables were featured in the 1985 James Bond classic with Roger Moore, A View to a Kill.
It was the home of the foe in the flick, Max Zorin (Christopher Walken), and many scenes were filmed in the stables and around the estate.
I told you first impressions were to die for.
It is about 50 kms north of Paris.
It’s a 30 minute fast train ride from Gare de Nord to the Chantilly stop.
It costs 8.70E each way. Our trip was an express train because of the premier race meeting.
General admission is 10E but pay the extra 10E for access to the Village de Diane in the middle of the track, which is where most of the activities are held. It’s worth it just to walk across the track between races.
Dress up but you don’t need to wear stilettos or high heels. A summer dress with sparkly sandals work just as well.
Take a great sun hat on your travels and it can work as a race hat with a pretty scarf.
And one last observation.
There were some 50 000 or more people at the meet, and as we all left for the day I didn’t see one drunk idiot or one stumbling woman hanging on to her trashed shoes. Decorum and elegance were clearly on the agenda.