© Chantilly, Château de Chantilly | CRTC Hauts-de-France - Vincent Colin

Royal and imperial chateaux

Picture yourself. A king or queen perhaps, or maybe an emperor or empress. Imagine your life as a member of a royal household, enjoying plush apartments complete with four-poster beds and precious furniture. Stroll in parks – each more extravagant than the next – and feel that you are standing in unique places that helped shape French history. What could be more exciting than imagining life as a historical figure in the surrounds of a luxurious chateau?

Northern France _ Compiegne _ Chateau © CRTC Hauts-de-France - Herve HughesNorthern France _ Compiegne _ Chateau © CRTC Hauts-de-France - Herve Hughes
©Northern France, Compiegne, Chateau|CRTC Hauts-de-France - Herve Hughes
Chantilly

Château de Chantilly

French excellence

Bring your kids or friends to the Château de Chantilly – everyone will appreciate and enjoy it. The Château de Chantilly is lots of places at the same time. Firstly, it is a grand chateau with exquisite gardens designed by André Le Nôtre, the renowned landscape architect and gardener to Louis XIV.  Le Nôtre rated his work at Chantilly above even his gardens at Versailles and Fontainebleau. Chantilly is also home to museums, a library and an expansive forest. And, of course, not forgetting the world-famous culinary experience that is Chantilly whipped cream.

If you’re interested in the equestrian world, then head to les Grandes Écuries, which houses the Musée du Cheval, a highly regarded horse museum. Horses are more than history here though – listen for the sound of hoofs because this is a living, working museum housed in the impressive palace of the Duke of Bourbon. Be transported to the magical world of equestrian shows where classical dressage of the Haute-Ecole is king. The show ring at Chantilly is topped by a 90-feet-high (28-metre) dome, which adds a grandiose feel that perfectly encapsulates an equestrian art that has been mastered here at les Grandes Ecuries.

Then we head to the Condé Museum and its Duke of Aumale collection – after the Louvre, it’s France’s second-largest collection of 15th to 19th century paintings. The museum also houses a remarkable set of drawings by Raphael.

Finally, no visit would be complete without a long stroll in the park, which showcases designs influenced by the trends of yesteryear. There is a French garden designed by Le Nôtre – complete with water mirrors, fountains and statues – as well as an atmospheric Anglo-Chinese garden and an English garden, home to a surprising array of animals. Don’t forget to also explore – with fork in hand – Le Hameau, a restaurant within the park that is famous for its delicious Chantilly cream, hand-whipped thick and firm. The kids will be in heaven – and so will you!

Compiègne

Château de Compiègne

get up close and personal with royalty

On the edge of the immense forest of Compiègne – right in the heart of the town and facing the cobblestones of la place du Général de Gaulle – you’ll see the imposing palace gates and courtyard. Chateau de Compiègne was of huge importance to the Bourbons and Bonaparte. Nowadays, it has three museums that are wonderful to explore as a family. Visit the summer residence, where generations of French kings and emperors loved to pass their time, to get an insight into royal life. From the top of the monumental staircase, a succession of richly decorated rooms plunges young and old explorers into more than a century of history. Discovering the exquisite apartments and state rooms is a unique experience – it’s like going on a treasure hunt through successive reigns, with the rooms all retaining their original decorative features and furniture.

In particular, the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI are beautifully revealed in the Galerie des Chasses and the Salle de Gardes. In the apartments used by Napoleon I, you can see how he used the style of the First French Empire to try and erase all traces of the Bourbons. But it was Napoleon III who brought a special vibrancy to the palace with his balls and parties. He maintained close ties with the palace – and for good reason! It was at Compiègne that he asked for the hand of the future empress Eugenie.

Perhaps one of the more unexpected surprises at Compiègne comes next. The National Car Museum houses the vehicle dubbed la Jamais Contente – ‘Never Satisfied’ – a four-wheeled torpedo-shaped car that in 1899 was the first to break the 62 mph (100km/h) barrier.

After all of these adventures through time, head out into the park to take a break or enjoy a picnic. Don’t miss the view of la percée des Beaux-Monts via a 3-mile (5-kilometre) corridor that pierces through the vast woodland, imploring you to further explore its 37,000 acres (15,000 hectares) of forest.