Chantilly is one of my favorite towns to visit. Just an hour outside Paris (faster by train), surrounded by lush forests, Chantilly is one of the country’s most prestigious equestrian towns, hosting jumping and flat racing events throughout the season at the historic Chantilly Hippodrome. There are also a few Ladies’ Days such as the upcoming Prix de Diane on June 13. Regular race days are pretty casual affairs, but the Ladies’ Days are when women come dressed up in their most elaborate hats and party dresses, and the men are in suits. Très élégant.
And the racetrack’s setting is remarkable, right next to the famous Château de Chantilly and the magnificent 18th-century Grand Stables (photo above), now home to the Living Horse Museum. History books say the stables, which rival some of the greatest palaces of France, were built by the 8th Price of Condé because he believed he would be reincarnated as a horse and needed a suitably posh place to live.The Château de Chantilly houses a museum with a remarkable painting collection worth visiting, and grounds designed by Le Nôtre of Versailles fame.
But back to the fancy hats. Many people seem to think the big racing events are exclusive or somehow hard to get into. But like any sporting events, there are “boxes” for the sponsors and big spenders, and there’s the stands and lawn open to anyone for the €8 entry fee. It’s an all-day event, with many things programmed besides just horse races. This year there’s a music concert by Australian singer Mickey Green, a floral design exhibition on the grounds, and even a “Boudoir de Diane” with hair and makeup makeovers for the ladies (although I don’t know anyone who would show up without their hair and makeup already done).
You can reserve a picnic hatbox for €25 or you can bring your own Champagne and strawberries, a Ladies’ Day tradition. Like the hats. Back to the fancy hats. Hats, fascinators and every kind of hair and head decoration will be seen at the Prix de Diane. Some go classic, others go for totally extravagant. You can even make something yourself if you’re the creative type. If you’re a busy Parisian, like most of us, the easiest option is to buy (or rent) a hat from a specialist hat maker (or modiste) in Paris.
Sure, you can go to the big department stores like Bon Marché or Printemps, or even find an acceptable hat to customize at Claire’s Accesories stores, but you won’t get the same service and useful advice that you’ll find from a real milliner. Today I stopped by the boutique of Laurence Bossion (10 rue St Roch, 1st), recommended by a good friend of mine. I went there intending to get a very classic straw colored hat, but once I got there, Laurence convinced me to try on some more extravagant hats, and I ended up with a fabulously large grass green summer hat adorned with big black flowers and feathers. It’s enormous! Now let’s just hope the sun come back out this Sunday…
Check back in next week for my follow-up post with the race results, gossip, weather report, and plenty of photos!