Together with its gardens, the Château de Versailles is one of the most famous monuments of world heritage. The buildings trace the architectural style of the 17th and 18th centuries and comprise: the Royal Apartments, the Hall of Mirrors, the Chapel, the Royal Opera and the Museum of the History of France.
The Park is decorated with statues, fountains, water parterres and outstanding buildings such as the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon, the Temple de l’Amour and the Hamlet of Queen Marie-Antoinette. After the restitution of the royal gate and the complete restoration of the Petit Trianon, the Royal Opera opened its doors in 2009 after two years of renovation works: it now welcomes the public with an exceptional programme.
Since October 2010, the King’s table is once again in the antechamber of the Grand Couvert which has been fully restored and is now reopen to the public. It recreates the dinnertime atmosphere in which King Louis XIV’s would eat in public with his family every night at 10pm with each dinner lasting 45 minutes!
Up early we head for the train station. Today we are on an expedition to Versaille. Getting on the train almost feels like climbing on to a time machine. We are whizzing past ever changing layers of history as we leave behind inner city paris. Very old architecture gives way to highrise flats which then transition into modern homes and further out still, older free-standing homes.
An hour and a half later our train brings us to the little city of Versaille. It is still early, we are hoping we have timed our arrival well enough to not spend half the day standing in a cue.
We walk through the little village of Versailles, its only a few blocks, to the Palace. Out the front we find a huge expanse of cueing space surrounded by loads of spots for tourist buses to park. And yes we have done it again, there are not many people here yet and those bus spaces are thankfully still empty.
We get in the shortish cue and wait patiently. It’s not long before more and more and more people start to fill in the vast space behind us as bus after bus arrives spewing bodies out onto the dirt waiting area. Tour guides with various mascots or flags tied to sticks above their heads herd their flocks of sheeple into orderly cues. Thank goodness I am not part of any of that. There is a certain anxiety about getting trapped in tourist ville coming here but how can you come to Paris and not visit Versaille. I’m just so lucky that my love is smarter than the average bear and has the perfect plan to ensure we get to remain independent travellers.
Finally the doors open and we are off. Again we flippantly disregard the numbered directions on the “map” and go with what feels good. The beginning feels a little like a rat maze but then all of a sudden here I am transported back in time to the 17th century. As we move through hallways and rooms it is clear that Louis XIV loved a splash of gold and not an inch was to be wasted, left unadorned. Apparently King Louis XIV didn’t like Paris and decided to make his dad’s place in Versaille the “Capital”, engaging an architect to extend Dad’s Chateau into his Palace. The architects first drawings were summarily dismissed because they involved bulldozing the old chateau. He was sent back to the drawing board with very clear instructions that the family home was to stay. There is a showy extravagance about everything here, it feels very indulgent.
We find the War Room, a long hall with enormous, vibrant, detailed paintings along each wall depicting may battles. It is moving space, extravagant, intense and amazingly almost empty. My love captures a fabulous picture – if we look closely there is one lady right at the end of the room. Our precious moment does not last long, soon people are flowing through behind us.
Again ahead of the masses, we round the corner into the hall of mirrors. Oh my goodness, I am stopped in mid stride, drawing a sharp deep breath I cannot get my feet to move. The long hall before me is lit by floor to ceiling opened windows overlooking the majestic gardens below on one side and all of this, sky, light, trees, reflected in huge mirrors on the opposite wall, create the feeling of walking through a kaleidoscope. It is so pretty, ornate, excessive. There seems to be an overt femininity about it. I can’t help thinking that Louis XIV was clearly a chap that loved a silk stocking…… on his own leg, lacy frills on his cuffs and a long curly wig!
The Palais was magnificent with intricately decorated salons and exquisite detail throughout. We moved outside to explore the gardens. The gardens are so vast that walking around could take hours. We opt for renting a little golf cart contraption to whizz about on. Name, telephone, first born child signed over and we are off! All giggles, we are burning off down the first little road. While from above I’m sure the garden design is obvious, from on the ground it is far more of a surprise. Tall trees spike up either side of us but when we stop at each garden opening and poke our heads in further than the outer edge we find surprise after surprise. It’s quite relaxing cruising around the grounds. We stop at the little lake at the bottom of the gardens to enjoy the majestic view back to the palace.
We head back to the palace, stopping at more little surprise gardens along the way. Our little cart returned we head for the train station to make our way back to Paris and a quiet evening in our little apartment after yet another remarkable day.