Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Prix de Diane

The rain finally decided to stop on Sunday, and lucky us, Sunday was the day of the Prix de Diane horse race in Chantilly.

I have a little horse racing experience in Paris, having been to the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe last fall.  This is the biggest race in Europe, so I was expecting this past week-end's race to be a smaller, more simple affair.  I'll let you be the judge, but of course I should preface this post with saying my focus is naturally going to be on the food and fun versus the horses and the race.

The quick 30 minute train to Chantilly leaves out of Gare du Nord, so at 11am, this large train station was filled to the brim with hat toting, heel wearing, fancy dress adorned people of all shapes and sizes with big bags of champagne, cheese, charcuterie and baguettes all running to catch the train and squeeze into the crowded cars for a day at the races.


Unlike the fall race, this one allows you to picnic in the infield, or have a "garden party" as they call it, which  sounds much more dignified than the reality of people sucking down copious amounts of Champagne and Rosé.  They even had a free concert on the infield before the races started.


We had a nice picnic of every cheese and smoked meat product in France with multiple baguettes, fruit, vegetables, sweets and of course a bit of alcohol.

We thought we had a nice spread, and then after some wandering, realized how we can take it up a notch next year with multi colored linens, cushions, candle holders, flowers and real tables.


Or we thought we just need to get invited to one of the parties, like this one, which seems like they'd have to have room for us at this lengthy table.

They also had a little Village with some of the nicest looking pop-up decor I've ever seen at an outdoor event.  You could shop, eat, drink, or just relax on one of the comfortable leather couches.


Then there were the hats.  Ladies get in free with a hat, but I'm not sure that mattered to some who came with the most festive grouping of lids I've ever seen.  They were big and small, feathers, sequins, ribbons and all worn with a good tilt and balance.  Enjoy the parade of hats.



And don't think it was just the ladies looking so nice.  Some of the men were decked out in top hats and tails.  Everyone was dressed to impress.


There was also a very intriguing group that showed up just before the big race to much fanfare.  Their presence produced a hush over the crowd, as well as the snapping of many pictures.  It was like they were on the red, or green, carpet of an awards show so they posed, watched a race, and left.   Très mystérieux.


All dressed up, and what to do?  Perhaps have a drink.  There was some champagne poured that day.  It's impossible to be most festive places in Paris without hearing the glorious sound of a cork exploding off the top of a bottle.  Some might have thought there was a war breaking out in our picnic area with all the popping, but we did eventually move to Rosé to keep the noise down.


I suppose I should mention the horses.  Yes, there were several races during the day.  Our group did some betting.  The betting was based on serious criteria like jersey colors, names and countries.


There were winners and losers, but the winners would just have to buy more wine anyway, so in the end, we were all winners.  It was a great day with beautiful weather, amazing people watching, and great picnicking with a fun group.  Until next year!

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