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Is the Fairytale Chateau De Chantilly Better Than Versailles?

Move over Versailles! Yes, you’re one of the most famous attractions in Europe.

But the Chateau de Chantilly art collection and fairy tale turrets are worthy competition for the oohs and ahhs you elicit!

We’ve discovered that river cruises are a delightful way to visit sites and attractions we might not otherwise see if touring independently. 

So we’re glad that on our Seine River cruise with Scenic Cruises, the Normandy itinerary included a guided tour of this chateau’s palatial rooms and art.

The chateau is every bit as impressive as Versailles – but without the elbow-jabbing hordes of tourists.

The Chateau de Chantilly is home to a marvelous art collection!
The Chateau de Chantilly is fabulous – and it’s home to a marvelous art collection!

Chateau de Chantilly

The estate (Domaine de Chantilly) dates back the 14th century.

It last belonged privately to Henri d’Orleans, the Duke of Aumale and hugely wealthy son of the last king of France, Louise-Philippe.

The Chateau de Chantilly is one of the best places to visit in France!
The chateau is one of the best places to visit in France!

It’s made up of two attached buildings, one a smaller 17th century chateau in Renaissance style, with a second larger 19th century building behind.

The whole edifice is surrounded by a moat – look down and you can see large black carp swimming in the water.

chateau de chantilly
The Chateau de Chantilly is castle-like in its appearance, topped with turrets and encircled by a moat

Chantilly lace and…

You’ve probably heard the rock-and-roll song Chantilly Lace?

France’s Chantilly district is indeed famous for its delicate Chantilly lace – along with its sweet Chantilly cream and horse racing (it’s home to the largest horse stables in the country, a boarding school for jockeys and even a private hospital to treat jockey-specific conditions).

The Musee Conde art collection

chateau de chantilly art
It’s hard to believe that one man, Henri d’Orleans, is largely responsible for the art collection seen today

Less well-known – at least perhaps to visitors from outside France – is the Chateau de Chantilly.

Yet it houses marvelous artworks. The collection of art is the second finest collection of classical paintings in France after the Louvre.

Chateau de Chantilly artworks Rafael Three Graces
“The Three Graces” by Raphael, 1504 to 1505, is the smallest but most precious piece in the Chateau de Chantilly art collection

Visitors are often surprised to discover that the chateau’s art gallery (Musee Conde) is home to works by the famous Italian Renaissance artists Botticelli and Titian, as well as three original Rafael paintings.

Other names you might recognize, whose paintings are also displayed in the art museum, include Flemish painter Van Dyck, French landscape painter Corot and Ingres (who painted one of the best known images of Napolean Bonaparte).

Gallery of Paintings

chateau de chantilly gallery of paintings
The Gallery of Painting is the grandest room in the Chateau de Chantilly, housing 85 precious paintings

The Gallery of Paintings is the largest room in the chateau.

It’s absolutely splendid, with 85 paintings hung at different heights on Pompeii red walls.

Chateau de Chantilly artworks
“The Madonna of Loreto” by Raphael, 1509 (once thought be a copy of a lost original, restorers have determined it’s a true original)

The canvasses are lit by natural light streaming through the soaring glass ceiling.

Several Italian Renaissance masterpieces – including Raphael’s “The Madonna of Loreto” and “Simonetta Vespucci” by Piero di Cosimo – are displayed in the Rotunda at the end of this gallery.

“Simonetta Vespucci” by Piero di Cosimo, 1480; she was hailed as one of the most beautiful women in Florence in the mid-15th century (Credit: Domaine de Chantilly)

Other rooms and galleries

Other smaller rooms in the Conde Museum contain lots more art, including many portraits of princes, kings, princesses and so on.

(Without Facebook and email, sending out portraits was important when arranging royal marriages centuries ago, so the prospective spouse could get an idea of who they were marrying!)

And is that Marie Antoinette? Yes, there’s a large portrait of her here too.

Marie Antoinette
The ill-fated last queen of France, Marie Antoinette

The Duke of Aumale designed the arrangement of his paintings himself.

He apparently liked showing his guests his art collection after a banquet in the chateau’s Gallery of Stags. No doubt they were impressed!

The reading room

As well as having a passion for art, the Duke of Aumale loved to read, confessing in a letter to a friend: “I think I’m suffering from bibliomania!

The library or “reading room” is filled with almost 19,000 books (some 3,000 are books in German and Italian on math, botany and other scientific subjects).

chateau de chantilly library
Reading chairs in the Duke of Aumale’s library

There are also 1,500 beautiful medieval manuscripts; several are displayed in glass showcases.

(Before the printing press was invented in Europe in the mid-1400s, books were handwritten; they were often colorfully decorated and illuminated with real gold and silver.)

The oldest illuminated manuscript in the Chantilly castle collection dates back to the 11th century.

The Duke’s legacy lives on

Princely apartments in the chateau showcase beautiful period furnishings

Sadly, the Duke of Aumale’s two sons died of yellow fever in Africa at the ages of 18 and 21.

With no other living descendents, he bequeathed the Chateau de Chantilly to the learned society Institut de France on the condition that it be opened to the public and the layout of the art remain unchanged.

What you see today is how it was at the time of the Duke’s death in 1897.

How to visit the Domaine de Chantilly

We toured the chateau while on a Seine River cruise on the deluxe Scenic Gem, operated by Scenic Cruises.

The guided tour is one of the included shore excursions on the Paris-to-Honfleur river cruise.

Chateau de Chantilly
The chateau is very impressive and a blend of different architectural styles!

The Chateau de Chantilly can also be visited on a day trip from Paris.

If you have the luxury of time, give yourself a day to appreciate all the chateau’s art along with the estate’s grand stables and extensive gardens.

We wished we had more time than the few hours we had. (But we had so many more sights to see on our cruise!)

For more information, see the Domaine de Chantilly website.

The Chateau de Chantilly is an easy train ride from Paris, so you can visit it on a day trip.
The Chateau is an easy train ride from Paris, so you can visit it on a day trip

Other things to do in Chantilly?

Check out the Chantilly Tourism Office website.

If you stay in Paris

Discover what to do and where to stay and eat, so you can have an incredible 3 days in Paris.

Our top travel tips and resources

Hotels: is great for scoring a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one. (We especially like their flexible cancellation policy!)

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Tours: For the best local food, walking and other guided tours, plus skip-the-line tickets to attractions, check out Viator (a TripAdvisor company) and GetYourGuide.

Car rental: Renting a car is often one of the best ways to explore off the beaten path. Discover Cars searches car rental companies so you get the best rates.

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Photo credits: © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase (except where noted)

We cruised with Scenic Cruises on assignment for various publications. The views expressed and words written are always our own.

About the authors

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Irene Levine

Monday 18th of December 2017

Loved reading about Chateau de Chantilly. There are so many beautiful chateaux in France that Versailles, indeed, has competition. We were dazzled by this one, too, Chateau de Vaux Le Vicomte, just outside Paris.

Janice and George

Tuesday 19th of December 2017

We visited Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte too on this Scenic Cruises river trip! Also very impressive! Too bad Nicholas Fouquet (who owned it) got tossed in prison for life by Louis XIV for building such a show-stopping place. At least it inspired Louis to build Versailles...


Tuesday 12th of December 2017

The Chateau de Chantilly looks marvellous although I still wouldn't say it's grander than Versailles. Haw! Haw! But you're right. It's certainly in the running lol!

'Love the photography. Excellent as usual!

Janice and George

Tuesday 12th of December 2017

Yes, we have to admit that Versailles is still the iconic palace. Louis built it to impress - and that it certainly does! Chateau de Chantilly is more intimate (though the grounds are expansive). It's probably because we've seen Versailles a couple of times (and both times were crowded) that Chateau de Chantilly made such a positive impression on us.


Tuesday 12th of December 2017

Well it definitely looks very beautiful -- a great under-the-radar find!

Janice and George

Tuesday 12th of December 2017

Apparently if you live in Paris or France, you've likely heard of Chateau de Chantilly (or Domaine de Chantilly). But for many outsiders like us, it's new :-).