Domaine de Chantilly

view of the chateau de chantilly

Most people probably think of sweet, whipped cream when you hear the word “Chantilly.” (Or else, the town in northern Virginia.) It took my some time, really, to think about a movie I liked and to do a little research.

Scene from a View to a Kill with Christopher Walken and Grace Jones

I’ve been a fan of the 007-James Bond movies since I was a kid; it was always a special treat when they’d show them on television. Then I’d go to the theater to see the new ones. Then I bought the “complete” movie set on Bluray. And I tell you all of this not because I want to debate my favorite Bond actor, but because I’ll admit which is my favorite movie. (I’m not sure anyone with any real critic chops agrees with me, but I stand by my choices.) My favorite Bond movie, at least those without Daniel Craig (Casino Royale is pretty good), is the 1985/6 production with Roger Moore: A View to a Kill.

I just remember at the time thinking Christopher Walken, playing Max Zorin, was a very convincing portrayal of a madman. All Bond villans tend to have their eccentricities, but there’s also something comical about these artifices, too. From a fluffy white cat, to a third nipple, or a short dude with a razor-studded hat, all these traits reek of the absurd. Sure, Zorin was supposedly the product of a mother who had been treated by a Nazi doctor/hormone specialist. I just think Walken was a better actor in many ways.

And the movie had Grace Jones. You don’t forget her.

In the film, Bond has to travel to Zorin’s horse estate, as there is a “sale” going on. Bond travels with a companion who acts as his valet. They encounter Jenny Flex, upon driving up to the estate. It’s magnificent on screen, and maybe some ten years ago, I read that they’d used a real estate in France. The building in the movie is the chateau and stables at Domaine de Chantilly. Low and behold, it’s thirty minutes away from Paris by TER train.(The train leaves from the Gare de Nord.)

(The movie also features a scene in which Bond chases after Mayday, played by Jones, before she escapes by leaping off the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Bond lands, chasing her, in a wedding cake inside a bateau mouché.)

Supposedly Walken wasn’t their first pick. I am not sure Roger Moore was, either. But the movie’s done. And beyond the Chateau de Chantilly, it features a lot of time in another one of my favorite places—San Fransisco. Let’s just forget that they never really made silicon chips in Silicon Valley. The movie includes a beautiful French estate and chip factory, a convincing underground mine scene, and views of the Golden Gate Bridge from a custom blimp.

Since I knew I’d be in France, and I hadn’t seen it yet, I wanted to visit Zorin’s lair. Or, well, the Domaine de Chantilly.

So off the train, you can wait for a taxi. Or do what we did, on a particularly comfortable morning, and walk the two kilometers or so to the Chateau. You just may see people riding horses. It’s a big deal. Just as was portrayed in the movie, the Chateau’s neighbor is a large horse stable (now, its own museum). And you’ll pass a large horse track before you get to the Domaine, proper.

The stables, seen above, connect almost immediately, on the other side, to “downtown Chantilly,” which would be a great place to stay for a few days, given fine accommodations and a gastronomic restaurant.

I got tickets for just the Chateau tour (there was more to do in Paris that afternoon). The gardens are another part of what your ticket entitles you to see, however perhaps early October wasn’t the best time of year for the gardens. Thankfully the clouds parted ways before we parted the Domaine.

I knew somewhere in those gardens is where Stacy Sutton’s chopper had landed, before she struck a deal with Zorin in his sumptuously-appointed office. In reality, the gardens feature the pools and fountains. The view from the sky is impressive; in total, the gardens did not rival those as Versailles.

From there, almost everything I remember from the movie was a memory. The real Chateau is home to its last owner’s collection of art and books. And wow—I didn’t know it was the largest collection of paintings in all of France after the Louvre.

This large salon felt as if there was too much art—it was crammed onto the walls. Quite a collection.

I recommend the included audio guide tour to learn more about what you’re looking at. The guide doesn’t cover every piece of art; instead, the guides more or less cover the rooms and what’s contained within.

The tallest portion of the chateau, on the right, is the chapel. It was a magnificent yet intimate gem of the estate.

The duke who owned the estate before leaving it to the French Institute also had a significant book collection.

Not photographed: several prized volumes encased in glass.

As the image above indicates, sometimes you have to look up. No ceiling was plain at the chateau; the art and design of the ceilings were so varied and all interesting.

In all, my visit to the Domaine de Chantilly, although fueled by my interest in a 1980s James Bond film, turned out to be far more interesting than I’d imagined. It’s smaller than Versailles, but in many ways, there’s more to appreciate. Gardens, great art, wonderful architecture. If I had more time for a slow lunch, visiting the equestrian museum would have been an ideal way to spend the afternoon.