One of the most fabulous of France’s extravagant stately homes, moated Chantilly is 40 km (25 miles) north of Paris. Building work began on a mansion suitable for the aristocratic Montmorency clan in the late 15th century and over the centuries Chantilly has also been home to the wealthy Orléans, Condé and Coutts dynasties. Construction on the present Petit Château started in the 1560s, while a second palace was largely destroyed in the 10-year French Revolution, which ended in 1799.
Today’s sumptuous neo-Renaissance replacement was created by architect Honoré Daumet at the behest of Henri d’Orléans, Duke of Aumale, who dreamed of creating the most splendid private residence in France. With suite after suite of opulently adorned apartments to admire, Chantilly is also home of the Musée Condé, which displays a fine collection of 15th- and 16th-century paintings from the likes of Raphael, Eugène Delacroix and Théodore Géricault. The palace is surrounded by ornate water gardens designed by André Le Nôtre, who also created the gardens at Versailles; further afield are 19,000 acres of English landscaped parklands and forest to explore. Daily dressage shows take place in the palatial 18th-century Grandes Écuries (Great Stables), which also house the Musée Vivant du Cheval (Living Museum of the Horse), while Chantilly racecourse is adjacent; it opened in 1833 and is home of the Prix du Diane, one of the richest races in the French racing calendar.