I was never interested about castles and palaces in my adult life, but during my last visit to the USA, my Uncle Bernard and Aunty Becky took me and my husband to the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.
Since then I was very fascinated with the lifestyle of the royals and the high and mighty. Imagine how they can run a ‘household’ of more than a hundred loyal subjects, a thousand entourage, and maybe a thousand of servants. Imagine the role and responsibilities carried out by each person to make sure the palace ran smoothly, organised and the routine of the sovereign bloods were followed accordingly. Imagine the countless dinner parties, dress up balls and political deals that took place in these palaces!
So when we were planning a trip to Paris, I made sure to reserve a whole day to see the Palace of Versailles. We were taken back in time and had a glimpse of the lives of the French Monarchs, the extravagant lifestyle of Marie Antoniette and the French Revolution.
How to buy tickets?
A few months before our trip I already booked a Passport timed entry ticket to the Palace. This included a guaranteed entry time, an audio guide and access to the whole estate including the fountain shows.
It is handy to know that there is a free app of Chateau de Versailles that can be downloaded in the iPhone. This app has the same content as the actual audio guide that we can get in the Palace. Once you have the app, you can already start listening to the audio guide or browse through what you can see and do inside the Chateau.
There are a lot of companies that offer guided tours and other experiences in Versailles, however, we chose to create our own adventure for this day.
How to get there?
Versailles is small city in the western part of Paris. We took the RER C line from Champ de Mars (closest train station from the Eiffel Tower) and after 25 minutes we arrived in Gare de Versailles Chantiers station. Round trip tickets per person costs approximately 7€ each.
Crossing the train station we walked past a few shops and some nice restaurants. We walked for about 12 minutes until we reached the main gates of the Palace.
How to get in the Palace?
Getting into the palace premises required a thorough security check at the main gates. We then headed straight to Entrance A as instructed in our tickets. Entrance A was quick to locate as there was a big sign hanging on the left corner of the palace. There were already about 10 other people in the queue when we arrived. The following minutes after we arrived a sudden flock of tourists arrived in 2 buses to join us and line got longer and longer.
What to do inside the Palace?
The palace has a number of chambers, galleries, salons, dining hall, libraries that I cannot keep count.
My favourite was the Hall of Mirrors. It is a huge hall that houses seventeen panels of arched mirrors, each facing an arched window overlooking the gardens. This gallery served as a waiting area for visitors and the royal subjects, and was also used during special ceremonies like grand dinner balls, special events and political receptions.
What struck me though were the paintings and the tapestries dating back from the 15th – 17th century that are still well-preserved to this day.
Moving on to The Hall of Galleries we saw gigantic displays of paintings commissioned by the kings to commemorate the triumphs of their many battles. Again, I lost count of how many battles there were. It is said that the artists studied the actual corpses of the people who died in the battles so they can paint them to the minute detail.
The audio guide helped a lot in providing us with information as we went along looking at the exhibits of the palace.
What to do in the Gardens?
The Gardens of Versailles is MASSIVE! It will easily take a full day to completely see and enjoy its surrounds. There are numerous fountains and water displays to see that you will definitely lose track of time.
When we entered the garden we saw people riding on a mini train. I found out that one full train ride cost 7€. I opted that we walked for I was thinking how could a mini train ride inside the garden cost more than our return train tickets to and from Paris! That decision was one of the biggest regrets I made during the trip. We walked acres and acres of land. People in bicycles passed us by frequently. I assumed all these cyclist were part of a bicycle tour, only later we found out that there were other facilities available to make our visit more fruitful and worth while.
What other activities can we do in the garden?
1. Rent a bike. This is the best way to see the garden. You can discover the great surrounds at your own pace and time and though it is more physical than riding the electric vehicle or taking the mini train, you will really enjoy the countryside breeze gently blowing on your face and it will get your heart racing. Also, you can discover little pathways and nooks which might be a good spot for a nice little picnic.
2. Have a picnic. If you are reading this now, then you are more informed that I was. So make sure to pack some snacks and go for a little picnic in one of the garden’s little nooks.
3. Take the mini train ride.
4. Rent an electric vehicle.
5. Enjoy a boat ride.
6. Try their restaurants and cafes.
7. Watch the musical fountain shows.
What to see in The Grand Trianon?
Beyond the gardens lies the Grand Trianon, King Louis XIV’s second abode when he needed to get away from the Palace. A lot smaller than the Palace of Versailles, but this pink marbled palace has still more than what I can count of bedrooms, studies, galleries and dining areas.
What to see in The Petit Trianon and The Queen’s Hamlet?
As we continued along from the Grand Trianon, we reached Petit Trianon, home of the Queen Marie Antoinette and her controversies. To help create my imagination of her lavish lifestyle, I watched the movie on Netflix starring Kristin Dunst.
Just nearby the Petite Trianon is the The Queen’s Hamlet. This rustic village boasts of flowers and vegetable beds inspired by a mixture of a french and english garden.
Her majesty used this ‘ornamental’ village, as an escape from the life at at the Palace. I have read that Marie Antoinette enjoyed dressing up as a shepherdress or a milkmaid and even milked cows that were of course cleaned by her servants. The generally oppressed people that time felt ‘mocked’ and resentment developed, which was one of the reasons that led to the French Revolution (source: wikipedia Hameau d la Reine).
Our day at Versailles ended at six in the evening, just when the clouds began to come together into a cumulonimbus formation. A short ten minute downpour paved an opportunity for us to snack on fast food a.k.a McDonalds. When the rain mellowed down, we dashed across towards the train station, into the train and made our way back to Paris.
I hope you enjoyed this post and may this inspire you to plan a visit to Chateau de Versailles.