Day Trip from Paris: Senlis and Chantilly
Aside from Disneyland Paris and Versailles, many visitors to the city of light never manage to explore the riches of the greater Paris region. This is a shame, since the region offers everything from quietly alluring old medieval villages, magnificent but relatively unknown chateaux, and verdant, cool forests offering some respite from the city grind. Today we take a look at Senlis and Chantilly, both only a short train ride from Paris. If you’re looking for that off-the-beaten-track day trip, you’ve found it.
If you love quaint little medieval towns with gurgling rivers running through them, this spot is for you. Dating to as early as the 12th century, Senlis was a royal residence for centuries before Frankish kings built residences elsewhere in the region (Fontainebleau, Versailles). Henry IV was the last king to reside here. The Nonette river, a tributary of the Oise, cuts through the town, adding additional charm to Senlis’ many cobbled streets, old cathedral, and Gallo-Roman remparts winding around the old town.
Getting There: Senlis is approximately 33 miles from the city center. By train, take the regional line from Gare du Nord to the Chantilly station, then local bus to Senlis. By car, take the A1 from central Paris.
Sites of Interest in Senlis
Old Town: Senlis is small enough that you can easily get off the train and walk around to see the town’s charming sites within a couple of hours. First, admire the grace of the Place du Parvis, overlooking the 12th century Cathedral Notre Dame. Before entering the magnificent edifice (free admission), take some time to observe its fine details: from the imposing thirteenth-century spire on the right tower, to the ornate doorway, which art historians believe inspired the more famous Gothic cathedrals at Chartres and Notre-Dame in Paris. Inside, highlights include the graceful nave and organ, and chapels featuring gorgeous stained glass and statuary.
Next, explore the Jardin du Roy (royal gardens). They sit on what was once served as the moat for extensive Gallo-Roman fortified walls. Today, only 16 towers from the original remparts survive, and some are badly damaged. It’s still fun to walk around and explore them, though.
The old Senlis Chateau is steeped in history, meanwhile. Make sure to enter through the glorious entrance, a fortified doorway accessible via the old Rue du Chatel. King Hugues Capet was pronounced king here in the 10th century, and the castle was built atop a site that had already been developed by the Roman Empire.
For more information on Senlis and guidance on what to see and do, visit the Tourist Office on the Place du Parvis de Notre Dame.
Chantilly: Chateau and Park
An excursion to this magnificent early Renaissance chateau and adjoining vast park offers a real breath of fresh air from the urban bustle, and is a far cry from the throngs of Versailles. While “Chantilly” makes you think of lace, or maybe whipped cream (not bad associations), the chateau is in impressive historical site whose grandeur outdoes Versailles’ in some key respects. A must.
Getting There: By train, take the RER Line D (direction: Creil) from Paris Gare du Nord to the Chantilly-Gouvieux station. The trip takes about an hour.
Sites of Interest in Chantilly
Chateau and “Domaine”: The Chantilly chateau and “domaine” is a marvel of 17th century Renaissance architecture. Featuring an artificial canal that’s double the size of Versailles’, its grandeur is much larger than its reputation among tourists. Explore the magnificent Prince’s Apartments, where the Grand Condé and his family lived. Several of the rooms feature wainscotting and other decorative details in the Regency and Rococo styles: lavish is an understatement.
In the “Grand Chateau”, an important collection of paintings, precious jewels, and tapestries awaits in the part of the domaine dedicated to fine arts. There’s also a chapel and a mausoleum containing the urns of the princes that once resided here.
Open: Every day except Tuesdays, April-November, 1030am-6:00pm. Nov-March open 10:00 am-5:00pm.
Current prices: see the official website for updated entry prices. Free for children.
Park: A wonderful spot for long, meditative walks, the park surrounding the chateau in Chantilly is massive (285 acres) and was designed in the late 17th century. Highlights include a tiered artificial waterfall, bucolic little villages, chapels, and houses once frolicked in by royals who liked to “pretend” themselves commoners, and even kangaroos– the last animals from a former small royal zoo here! English-style gardens contrast with the more fastidiously groomed look of the 17th and 18th century “allees”.
Entrance to the park currently costs 6 Euros (or buy a combined park/chateau ticket to save).
For more information on enjoying Chantilly and environs, visit the Tourist Office at 60 Avenue du Marechal Joffre.
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