It was sad to leave ZeeCee and Richard's house, but we had one more leg of the journey to complete before heading for home.
Home... it saddened me to even think of leaving France and heading back to Mission. There is such character, culture and history here... makes me just want to curl up in the corner of France and refuse to leave.
This is seriously tantrum worthy.
Our final destination was Chantilly. I figured it was close enough to Paris, and to Charles de Gaulle airport. Chantilly is known for its lace, its beautiful palace and gardens, and it appealed to me as it meant I could easily avoid having to navigate the labyrinth of hectic, capacious roads.
I was getting tired of driving and at every possible opportunity, I took the road less travelled. Back routes certainly meant extended periods of time in the car, but also reduced the stress of highway speed, mandatory tolls, heavy traffic and lengthy waits at red lights. Exploring France's scenic landscape was the best way for us to immerse ourselves in authentic France and meander at our own pace. The back roads served to show more of the charming countryside, and had we not been traveling these quaint country lanes, we never would have stumbled across Château de Pierrefonds.
This little town was bursting with activity, but what really lured us in was the magical palace, peaking out from above the tree line. It was absolutely enchanting and there was no way we could carry on without appeasing our curiosity and fascination.
We had found Château de Pierrefonds.
Commissioned by Napoleon III, this magical castle, and once imperial residence, is an impressive, medieval-inspired landmark. It is known for its sumptuous polychrome decoration, and I'll admit I had to look that up... extravagant, multi-coloured print & pattern designed exterior.
The exterior was far superior to the interior, and although artistically impressive, Château de Pierrefonds was very castle-like, with it's magnificent great rooms, white stark walls, giant beast statues... and undeniable 'mans touch.' It actually left me wondering it Napoleon III had a touch of small man's syndrome. I was very impressed with the attention to detail in carving, the Camelot staircase, the imposing stronghold towers, the courtyard and the ceremonial rooms... but Napoleon III focused much of the design on military architecture, in an effort to pay tribute to the military spirit of the French nation.
The little town of Pierrefonds was bursting with activity. A small marching band-style orchestra stood in the corner of the town's courtyard and entertained the lunchtime crowd with lively tunes. The flowers were out, the sun was shining, merchants had moved some of their items out onto the sidewalk and everyone was enjoying this sunny, Spring day.
I had taken the liberty of booking a nicer place for our final night. Not that they weren't all nice - except, maybe the halfway house in Paris - BUT... our last night had to be something special. Right? This particular place just looked so exquisite in the pictures... and the fact that it was posted at such a reasonable rate, made it very difficult to ignore. The place was Château de Montvillargenne... refined quarters in a formal castle hotel with an upscale restaurant, a pool & 6 hectares of grounds.
Refined quarters was absolutely correct... and I think our jaws dropped, as we entered through the massive, and impressively designed, iron gates and down the narrow lane that led us up to the front doors of the ivy-covered palace.
The façade of Château de Montvillargenne was unparalleled. I don't think I ever really thought I would actually stay, let alone have a reservation, in such a romantic, picturesque and enchanting palace.
Defined as having an idyllic leafy setting and luxury hotel rooms, the interior of Château de Montvillargenne unfortunately did not quite match the magical exterior. The hallways were very dark and narrow, and the lights only flickered on when they detected movement. I wouldn't necessarily describe the rooms as luxury, but more semi-modern. When I say this, I mean conventional, Ikea-style modern. There was no extraordinary artwork or local photography to adorn the bare, white walls. In fact, there was zero magical, palace-style embellishment inside our room at all. As I mentioned before, I did get an exceptionally good rate, so perhaps we were thrown on the economical floor - the equivalent of the cheap seats. I know it sounds like I'm just complaining, but for a palace, intent on creative indulgence and providing the utmost in comfort, the beds were almost too hard.
... and the individual glasses of house wine were WAY too expensive.
Once we had settled in to our room, we hit the road again, bound for the Château de Chantilly, France's marvellous castle renowned for its opulence and extensive art collection.
After successfully parking, we took to strolling through the incredible grounds of the castle, and I thought it might be a splendid idea to get an ice cream cone!
It was a beautiful, sunny day... our last day in France, and definitely everything worthy of this lavish treat. To be honest, yes, I always think it's a good idea to get an ice cream cone, but this cone was topped with Chantilly cream, so what could be more fitting?
We patiently stood in line for our turn, and by the time we made it to the front, we had both chosen our own flavour... and the girl behind the counter began to scoop. The scooping was about half way done, when suddenly she stopped, looked directly at us and said, "We only take cash."
Not the words we wanted to hear.
Definitely not the words anyone that only had credit cards wanted to hear.
I had given my last shrapnel to the loo donation jar in Riems. Aunty Lin frantically scoured through the bottom of her purse, desperate for each and every coin she found, and eventually produced about €1.50 less than we were going to be required to pay.
Friendly stranger behind us to the rescue!!
He stepped forward and generously offered to make up the financial difference out of his own wallet. It was beyond sweet. If anyone ever says that people in France are rude, I have an abundance of kindness stories to bestow.
What poor, glutenous beasts we must have looked like! Trying to stuff Chantilly cream covered ice cream into our mouths, not a cent to our names... Regardless, thank goodness for the compassion of strangers that we were able to thoroughly enjoy this guilty pleasure.
Henri d’Orléans, Duke of Aumale, son of the last King of France, Louis-Philippe. This prince, who is considered to be the greatest collector of his time, made Chantilly the showcase for his countless masterpieces and precious manuscripts. He put together the second largest collection of antique paintings in France, after the Louvre Museum.
Château de Chantilly was full of charm, and although the private suites were closed off for viewing, but we were both thoroughly impressed with how richly decorated the rest of the palace was. With each and every step we took, there were more lavish decoration, exquisite chandeliers, ornate carvings and delicate furniture than one could properly take in. Photographs could not do it justice. Each extravagant room showcased an extensive collection of paintings, dainty dishes and book illuminations. The entire château was, quite clearly, a compilation of love.
After the castle, we made our way into the village to walk around and explore for a little bit, but our late afternoon venture had caused us to miss most of the shops, and we, once again, found ourselves at the mercy of a closed-down-town.
It had been awhile since we had encountered this, and I think we were both slightly taken aback.
We eventually found a dingy little bistro and fought our way through smokers and dirty dishes, all the way to the back booths in order to feast on our last French fare of salad and Brie on baguette.
One night left...