The Palace of Versailles is a must-see if you are anywhere near Paris. There are magnificent gardens with beautiful fountains and of course, you can tour the palace itself. It had been many years since Mike and I had visited, so it was on our list of must-do things, while we stayed in Paris.
Getting to Versailles
As with most places in and around France, you can get there easily by train. It even turned out that our city metro passes worked just fine in both directions. First, we took the Metro to the nearest station that connected to RER C, one of the trains that goes to the suburbs. We got to the Versailles stop about an hour after we left our apartment.
From the station, the palace is a pleasant 5-minute walk past beautiful chateaux built by people close to the royal families. From a distance, the palace is a very long, low structure but the natural topography drops off in the back to the gardens and a lake. In addition to the chateau and the gardens, there is another smaller palace called the Petit Trianon. We decided not to visit this building because the main palace was enough.
A Note About Tickets
I didn’t realize until the day before we planned to go that I needed separate tickets for the palace and the gardens. The cheapest thing would have been to buy the combination ticket but as with most French websites, that wasn’t clear. So, when I first logged in, I only bought timed tickets for the palace. The day before we were set to go, I got back on the website, and after further reading, discovered that we needed a ticket for the gardens. Since you can’t buy day-of tickets, it was fortunate that I could get the garden tickets the day before.
In general, nearly every museum and attraction requires timed tickets that must be purchased or reserved the day before. Sometimes, you can wait in a long line and get into the desired museum but don’t count on it. On the first Sunday of every month, most of the museums are free. However, that doesn’t mean you can just walk up and get in. Even for the free Sundays, you need to reserve a time slot for entry. During the high season, you need to make your reservation exactly one month in advance.
Gardens of Versailles
Our timed tickets for the palace weren’t until 2:30 so we had to cool our jets for a while because we arrived at about 11:30. Fortunately, the garden tickets aren’t timed but the fountain shows are on a specific schedule. The garden drops down from the rear palace patio. All of the paths and your eye lead to a beautiful Grand Canal. On one side there is a proper English garden with bisecting paths, shrubs, and flowers. But the back is more wild and natural. The view from the back patio is spectacular.
Our goal in the gardens was to see some of the fountain shows. The fountains are dry when there is no show, which I found to be a little odd. I figured the fountain shows would be grand and have music like the one at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, but that wasn’t what we encountered. The shows filled the fountain with water and then ran a predetermined pattern of jets. Some were prettier than others, I specifically enjoyed the fountain show the Bassin of Neptune, which is on your right if you are facing the lake.
It was customary to have specifically arranged gardens and also have a wild area called the Parc. The lake is part of the park and we saw paddle boats out there a little later in the day. Bring your walking shoes, because the gardens are huge. We managed to go on a day that wasn’t too hot and did not rain much, lucky us.
Palace of Versailles
We wandered the gardens until it was time for us to see the inside of the Chateau de Versailles. We were treated to a good view of the golden exterior of the palace. Walking through the museum with its gilt walls and ceilings, you are taken back to the time of the kings. Additions after the revolution were dedicated to the grandeur and accomplishments of the French people.
Louis XIII came to Versailles for his first hunting trip in August 1607. In late 1623 the king decided to build a small hunting lodge where he could stay the night which he first used in June 1624. The forests around the site were full of pheasant and wild boar.
Louis XIV developed a genuine liking for Versailles early on and decided to extend it beyond the chateau that had grown out of the hunting lodge first built by his father. The King took on the role of architect himself and built a masterpiece with which he would forever be associated. From 1661 until the end of Louis XIV’s life in 1715, the Palace saw a constant stream of building projects.
Following the death of Louis XIV, the court abandoned Versailles and transplanted itself briefly to Paris the following December. Under Louis XV, Versailles entered a long period of neglect.
Born in Versailles like his grandfather, Louis XVI became king before the age of twenty. The celebration of his marriage in 1770 to the Archduchess of Austria, Marie-Antoinette, was one of the greatest events to take place in Versailles in the late 18th century.
After the Revolution
After the revolution, Napoleon, who was aware of its image, chose not to settle in Versailles. He opted instead for Trianon, which was more modest.
It was not until the accession to the throne of Louis-Philippe as “King of the French” in 1830 that the palace got renewed attention. In 1833, Louis-Philipe decided to create a museum “dedicated to all the glories of France”. The monarch sought to reforge a bond among the French people, from the legitimist monarchists to the revolutionaries, and from the supporters of Napoleon to the liberals. Opening in 1837, the museum celebrated glorious events in the history of France from the Middle Ages to the start of the July Monarchy.
After Louis-Phillipe’s death, the palace was again neglected. Salvation came from the American billionaire John D. Rockefeller, who made two enormous donations to the Palace for its restoration, recalling the involvement of France in the American War of Independence.
The palace survived the two world wars intact and is again a fine display of French history through the ages. Some sections of the palace carry the mark of Louis XVI, while other sections carry the mark of Napoleon, courtesy of Louis-Phillipe. The palace is nothing if not a spectacular walk through the history of France. There is an exceptional hall that has brilliant paintings of Napoleon’s battles. Every room seems to have a painted ceiling and guilt on the walls.
I would recommend dedicating several hours to the palace alone. It will be time well spent.
Versailles, have you visited?