25 MINS BY TRAIN
Barely 40km north of Paris, Chantilly is the epitome of French provincial elegance. Plunge into the 6,300-hectare Chantilly forest, a shady treat in summertime much favoured by locals; some 4m visit each year, leaving foreign tourists to sweat among the crowds in Versailles. Paths in the woods are well marked, though some are set aside each morning for horse-riders. In the 19th century Chantilly was favoured by the rich and artistic, both French and English, especially those fond of racing. The town is home to more than 2,600 thoroughbreds (the Aga Khan has stables here), with frequent race meetings at its hippodrome. Visit the Grandes Écuries, the great stables, within the sprawling Domaine of Chantilly, which also houses a castle, museums and a park. Stroll through the gardens to Le Hameau (March to November), for delicious local cuisine; dessert, inevitably, is topped with Chantilly cream.
For a different vibe head south to Parc Asterix, a theme park based on the comic books, where you can get a fix of rollercoaster action but avoid queues at Disneyland Paris. If you’re too tired to make it back to Paris, climb into the treetops to sleep it off at the Cabanes des Grands Chênes.