A Trip to Versailles
The opulence of the era is immediately felt when viewing the marble floors and statues that line the entrance. It was soon obvious that the palace is no longer just the hunting lodge that it once was. We first traveled through the collection of rooms that make up the State Apartments. A grand hall leads to various drawing rooms all named after gods from mythology – Venus, Diana, Mars, Mercury and Apollo. These rooms are covered in rococo-style paintings and filled with statues, along with decorated ceilings. The palace also holds its own chapel, comprised of towering columns and ornate ceilings. We were told that King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were married in the chapel.
The next area is my favorite part of the palace – the Hall of Mirrors. From the mirrored walls to the sparkling chandeliers to the gilded statues, the room is nothing short of awe inspiring. History buffs like myself know the Hall of Mirrors as the location of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which officially brought the First World War to an end. But it was also once home to lavish balls and weddings frequented by royalty and aristocrats of the time. Off of the Hall of Mirrors are the King and Queen Apartments, which most notably house the King and Queen’s bed chambers. These rooms are nothing short of extravagant, with beds that reach to the ceiling, glistening chandeliers and gilded furnishings. The Queen’s bed chamber is full of the glitz and glam you’d expect from a queen. This is also where the queen gave birth, which was a public event. That’s a little strange to imagine these days!
After we finished touring the palace, we headed outside to explore the gardens. Immaculately manicured lawns and trees are visible for as far as the eye can see, dotted with glistening fountains and statues. After taking it all in for a moment, we headed down the Royal Walk. A fountain featuring a statue of Apollo and his chariot is one of the first recognizable sites. From there you can wander around to view the statues and greenery that line the walkways. We opted to rent the optional golf cart, which I highly recommend. The price may be a little steep at about $50 for an hour, but it’s worth it to save the time that it would take to travel the whole area on foot. I’ve heard stories from friends who spent the whole morning walking throughout the gardens, only to be too exhausted to do anything else in Paris the rest of the day! Plus, the golf cart makes for a memorable experience! Bike and boat rentals are also available, which would probably put rowing through Central Park’s lake to shame!
We headed to the Grand Trianon, which was built by the Louis XIV as an escape for the king and his mistresses. The building is made of pink marble, and the gardens are also beautiful. The accompanying Petit Trianon was gifted to Marie Antoinette and featured her own private getaway, now known as the Queen’s Hamlet. This model of a Norman village was quaint and adorable, with thatched roofs and potted flowers in the windowsills. It was apparently built to allow Marie Antoinette a taste of country life, and still features a vegetable garden and roaming farm animals. This area is definitely a must-see.
After we finished the tour and before heading back to central Paris, we stopped by a nearby restaurant for a quick bite. There are a few decent restaurants and shops in the area, along with familiar names like Starbucks. The restaurant was heavy with tourists due to its closeness to the train, but it was fine for our time crunch. After recharging with coffee and a cheese plate, we were on our way out of Versailles and back to the city.
Getting to Versailles:
Take the RER C train (yellow line) from central Paris to the suburb of Versailles. Note that Versailles is in zone 4 outside of the standard Paris metro line, so you’ll need a special ticket. After about 40 minutes, you’ll arrive at Versailles Rive Gauche. From the station, just follow the signs (and the tourists!). Try and get there early to avoid the crowds, and give yourself at least a half a day to explore. Tickets can also be purchased online in advance on the chateau’s website.