Back in 1985, I was fascinated watching a James Bond film titled “A View to Kill”. I was astonished watching the scenes shot in a French castle, its stables and expansive garden. This place was the Chateau de Chantilly ,a castle which was home to the cousins of the French Royalty since the fifteenth century. Located just hardly an hours drive away from Paris it could also be accessed within half an hour from Gare De Nord by the Reseau Express Regionale (RER) trains going towards Creil. Being quite close to where I was staying, my aunt, niece and children drove down with me to see this fascination. Chantilly is a small town and locating the castle was easy.
Driving through a broken arch which would have possibly been holding the castle gates we were shell shocked at the beauty and imposing stature of the grand stables as well as the Castle itself. It was a long walk from the car park to the castle. We had to walk across a canal which served the purpose of a moat around the chateau. Walking along a cobble stone road we reached the entrance. Entry tickets to the stables, garden, castle and museum were priced separately and this gives one a lot of options. Having chosen ours,we were along with the tickets handed an audio guide, map and also some reading material.
Huge sculptures adorn the side walks and the castle overlooked an expansive garden. Decorated cascades, pavilions, terraces, glass houses, wooden bridges over the many intertwining canals,waterfowls and huge trees adorned the vast expanse of the garden which was part of the Chantilly forest.
Entry into the castle proper was through a drawbridge over another moat. The architectural beauty of the castle was spell binding and the small chapel in the courtyard had an impressive colorful stained glass window, which cast a magical aura of light. Entering the castle we descended two floors to get to the salons. The castle exhibited fine paintings mostly of French artists and I was impressed best, by the painting of Raphael glorified in the “Three Graces and the Madonna of Loretta”. A large library gracefully arranged with many thousand books, took pride in possessing very many rare medieval manuscripts. Sculpted busts, statues, ornaments, traditional furniture, household appliances and tapestry in the many decorated chambers, majestically proclaimed the luxury of the nobility.
The walk around the garden and the castle took us more than half a day and we thought we should come another day to visit the Horse museum and Grand stables which is home to the best thorough bred race horses in France. We were given to understand that equestrian shows and about 25 race meets, each year, are held in the castles race course.
What about the French revolution, the World Wars and the effect of it on Chantilly? Yes, the revolution almost destroyed the entire chateau but whatever was destroyed, had led to evolution for the better. All that was carnage during the revolution had been rebuilt, to what it is today. The world wars during the 19th century kept the chateau under German occupation only for a few years. The American tanks and the airplanes of the allied forces had also etched their part in the greatness of Chantilly.
While driving back home my mind meandered over the killing views of Chantilly and began thinking about the castle that had enthralled us all. Reaching home I picked up a bottle of wine for dinner. It had in its label a prominent print of the district and the house that had manufactured the wine. Over our meal my niece told me that a chateau in french means a castle or a large country home of lords or nobility, where vineyards were tended, since the Roman era. I was jovially told that in all wine bottles, one would notice in its label, the mention of the house or chateau where the wines were brewed. Interestingly the French had thus the freedom of choice to know what they were partying or getting drunk on.
Having dined to my hearts content I sank on bed remembering the best wines and the magnificent views of Chantilly. To tell you the truth the wine was intoxicating and the views of Chantilly did kill me softly putting me to to sleep unmindful of the days ahead.