During the Toussaint holidays, we took a day trip to the famous Palace of Versailles. The palace is a major tourist attraction of Paris, and is best known for its opulence and extragavant decorations. Built by King Louis XIII in the early 17th century, the palace expanded from a hunting lodge to the main royal home during the reign of Louis XIV- or the Sun King! I was lucky enough to be able to meet up with an old family friend at Versailles, Sabine; who is a student nearby!
How to get there
The chateau is not located right in Paris, but about 20 km out, with easy connections on the Paris RER public transportation system! From the Paris Gare du Nord, its a straight shot on the metro line C- getting to the Chateau Rive Gauche station takes approximately 40 minutes on the RER. From the metro stop the palace is a 5 minute walk!
Perks of being an assistant
With my valid French visa and passport proving Im under 26, we qualified for free entrance to the chateau and avoided standing in the ticket line! However, as it was a gorgeous Saturday, we did have to stand for 40 minutes in the long entrance line.
Versailles is exactly what the cultural images say. It is elaborate, the gold carvings are excessive, and the bedrooms are so extragavant as to border on the ridiculous. And its like going back in time. The chateau has been beautifully preserved- by King Louis Philippe in the 19th century. After the French Revolution the palace became associated with the monarchy that had been overthrown and so the palace and gardens fell into disarray and shambles in the decades following the Reign of Terror. By the 19th century, however, a newfound interest in the history of France had resurfaced, and Versailles was patched up and put together as a Museum of France.
When one approaches the castle, you turn a corner and suddenly it is all out in front of you. The immense palace facade extends both directions behind a gilded gold fence, with the chateau covered in tiny gold decorations alongside the pink brick.
The inside of the chateau is made up of endless rooms with their own histories. We chose not to get an audioguide, as we had all visited Versailles before, and decided to wander from room to room on our own.
One of the most famous rooms of Versailles is the Hall of Mirrors. Exactly as it sounds, this long hall is lined with full length mirrors- and the ceiling is decorated by paintings and crystal chandeliers. It was very crowded when we went but the right hand side offers gorgeous views of the gardens of Versailles! The Hall of Mirrors has also played a historical role- when France lost the Franco Prussian War in 1871, the victorious German emperor forced the French to sign their surrender in the Hall of Mirrors as a symbol of defeat. In the next war, France insisted on the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 to be signed in the Hall of Mirrors to prove they had defeated the Germans.
There is more to Versailles than the famous golden palace! Included in our free admission to the Chateau de Versailles was the chance to visit Marie Antoinette`s hamlet on the grounds of Versailles, along with two smaller palaces: Le Petit Trianon and Le Grand Trianon. The grounds of Versailles are enormous- stretching out over 800 hectares of land! It was a beautiful day in October with fall foliage and the chance to escape the crowded palace.
Marie Antoinette is rumored throughout history to possess a desire to escape from the politics of Versaille and life in a palace. For this reason there was a mini-village constructed just for the queen and her friends as a quasi-country home and refuge from palace life. The hamlet consists of a farm, a watermill, the queen s house, the guardhouse, dovecote, and various other buildings. It was very far removed from the glamor of the palace and a fun place to walk around!
Le Pétit Trianon
The next stop on our tour of Versailles was Marie Antoinette`s personal palace. Removed from the bustle of the chateau yet more elegant than her hamlet, the queen is believed to have exercised absolute autonomy over the small Trianon, even barring her husband when she chose! Le Pétit Trianon held rooms for Marie Antoinette`s ladies in waiting as a way to escape court life.
Le Grand Trianon
The final stop on our tour was the personal palace of Louis XVI- often used for more low key state events than those held at the chateau itself. While photos were not allowed within the building, the palace had very striking gardens and columns outside its walls. Le Grand Trianon is still in use by the French government as rooms for visiting foreign ministers.
Visiting Versailles was a perfect escape from big-city Paris, although don`t underestimate the Saturday crowds, as we did! We had a blast picnicking on the grounds and exploring more of the Versailles complex that we hadn`t seen before.
Have you been to Versailles? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!