“ The Château de Versailles, or simply Versailles, is a royal château in Versailles, France. In English it is often referred to as the Palace of Versailles. When the château was built, Versailles was a country village, but it is now a suburb of Paris with city status in its own right. From 1682, when King Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in 1789, the Court of Versailles was the centre of power in Ancien Régime France. „
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I have just returned from a brilliant few days in Paris. We went with a coach company and so it was all 'planned out for us'. One of the places which we were due to visit on the second day. When I realised that we were going there, I had a look on the website and when I saw the pictures I was amazed and could not wait to go there.
~ * What Is Versaille Palace ? *~
This palace was the home to the French Kings between 1682 and 1789. The monarchy was brought to an end after the French revolution. Today, the palace is open to tourists.
As we went on a bus I am not sure of the way, although I know that it was around 30 minutes from Paris.
On the way down the Palace, we had watched a DVD on the coach about the history of Louis 14th who had built it and so it was interesting that we got to get a little bit of background information before going in there.
~ * First Impressions * ~
When we first arrived we were amazed at the palace (just looking at it from the bus); it was absolutely massive, and I mean massive!! The gates were made from gold; not just a little bit of gold, but a lot of gold! I was impressed!
We walked through the gate; there were hundreds if not thousands of people in the 'outside bit of the palace'. We could see a big, long massive queue!! There weren't any instructions, so we went to join the long queue as fast as we could so that we would have as little waiting as possible.
We had been waiting around twenty minutes when we saw some people talking to someone who worked there, and then leaving the queue. We weren't sure why until we saw someone from our group who said 'oh you need to get tickets first before you join this queue'. So we then had to leave that queue and join another massive queue to get tickets! So that was time lost.
There were six in our group; so four of us when to go and get the tickets, and the other two stayed in the long queue so that we wouldn't have to queue when we got back.
We were in the queue waiting for tickets for about an hour and a half, it might have been nearer two hours.
The bus driver had told us that he had enquired about the price and on that day it was going to cost 18 Euros to go into the palace and gardens, but if you paid for the tickets to the palace and garden seperately it would cost you 25 Euros.
We waited in the queue for tickets for ages and when we eventually got inside the palace, there was even more queuing which was frustrating.
When we got near the front, we could see 'counters - like the ones you get at the post office'. We didn't know what they were; there were no signs and nobody to ask. So when we were near to the front there was what seemed to be an announcement in French; we couldn't understand what they were saying.
My friend then noticed that it was the man behind the counter telling us to go to the counter; it was such a long announcement and in French, that we thought that it was just an announcement to everyone, but it was for us.
So when we got to the desk, he was really horrible and was shouting at us in French (and going on and on), pointing at his watch and pointing at all the people waiting and telling us to come on; we couldn't understand what he was saying, but he was really angry which I thought was horrible; talk about customer service! So that really annoyed me! The annoying thing was that when he was talking he was on a microphone so it was really loud and everyone could hear, so that made us feel silly!
We had already sorted out the money to pay out, between us in the queue. So when we got to the desk we had the correct money (my friend and I got in for free because we were under 26 and residents of Europe, which was nice!). But the man was saying 'no, I need £100' and we were like, 'we were told by someone on the door that it was 18 euros each' and he said 'no it is 25 euros each today'. He was such a horrible man.
Although my friend and I could get into the palace for free, we had to pay to get into the euros, which a lady who worked there had told us was 6 euros, however, the man told us 'you can get into the palace for free but you have to pay 7 euros for the garden!' I'm not sure what his problem was, but he seemed to be making up his own prices!
Once we had got a tickets, we then had to go back to the other queue to meet the others (who had by now, got to the front quite a while ago, and so were waiting for us at the front). Luckily they let us in, but after letting us in, we heard them telling some other people who had done the same that they had to go to the back of the queue (which would take about two hours!). So they had a very silly system.
When we got into the 'before you get into the palace' bit, we had to put our bags through our scanner. We were then let through to get into the palace; it was so big we had no idea where to go. We then asked someone who told us to go up the stairs, which we did; my friend was halfway up the stairs when a man started saying 'Madam, no' and told her to come back down, as the stairs was for 'coming down only and not going up' (and there wasn't even anyone on the stairs anyway - they were 'empty').
~ * Once We Had Eventually Got Inside The Palace... * ~
It was massive! I was expecting something amazing...but this was more than amazing! Whilst I have been round some grand castles and houses in the United Kingdom I haven't seen anything as grand as this.
I was really impressed with the deco in this palace; it was really beautiful and so detailed that it made me wonder how they could make something to 'complicated' back in those days.
There were some really beautiful paintings in the palace; I think that there were some in nearly every room. In the Kings bedroom, there were lots of odd paintings of his children on the room etc which I thought was funny, but then I realised after that they wouldn't have had cameras in those days and so it was probably like we have pictures of family in our rooms these days.
There was a 'Hall of Mirrors' room which was just a big hall of mirrors and candles; very impressive.
We got to see the King's bedroom and the Queen's bedroom (didn't they sleep in the same bedroom?). They were so grand and not at all cosy looking. It made me wonder how someone could sleep in such a 'grand room'.
The Palace was sooo busy, not just a bit busy but proper busy. It was quite horrible really as it was jam-packed, and so you forever having to 'squeeze past' and that was if there was a small place to be able to squeeze past, and people were constantly bumping into you; and not even saying sorry, just really rude. It was also really hot.
This was a shame really because it meant that you couldn't look properly as there were so many people in there, you felt that you couldn't stand and look because you were in the way and people were trying to get past and so you felt as though you had to 'move on'.
There were 'walkie-talkie' radio type things which you could 'hire' for free. You had to type in the number of the room on the phone (which was on the information slab in each room!) and select your language and it would then tell you the history of that particular room.
We all got a walkie-talkie each although they took a while to get working and sometimes you didn't know what number the room was as there were too many standing in the way to see the 'information slab which had the number on'. So, in the end I turned mine off, although it would have been nice to have known the history of each room.
The commentaries on the walkie-talkies were quite long and so the times when I was using them, I felt that I couldn't listen to them properly, or listen to all of the information on them because I was having to constantly keep 'walking'.
The Palace was so busy that I don't know why they don't have a system where they only let so many people in at a time so that you can look properly. People were trying to take pictures, but there were so many people in the way that you couldn't. It was just chaos.
Through the windows (some were open because it was so hot), you could see the gardens, which were amazing; lots of flowers, lakes and fountains, I would have loved to call it MY garden! It was just really beautiful.
As we only had around four hours to visit the palace (and by the time we had actually got into the palace we only had around an hour and a half left to spare) so we got to the entrance of the gardens where you could see over the small fences, but you had to queue and buy a ticket to actually get into the gardens (more queuing again!) and so we didn't have time. But we weren't that disappointed as we had already seen some great views of the gardens from the palace.
We saw the biggest painting in the world; it was a gift to the king. The King liked it so much that he framed it and put it up in one of his rooms; it was massive - I was wondering how they had got such a massive painting (it took up a whole big wall in one of the big rooms.) up on the wall, or had they painted it on the wall. But then I thought that he liked it so much, he had put it on the wall.
We saw where the king ate his meals and all of his 'people' would gather round and watch him eat; all eager for him to say something to them.
Whilst the Palace was grand (it was so big we didn't get to see all of it), I would not have liked to have lived there; I mean why would they need so many rooms (700 in total!). Whilst it was grand, there was nothing 'comfy' or 'cosy' about it.
I found it really interesting to see how the King and Queen lived. It must have been a funny life, especially with no electricity, clean water or a toilet.
~ * Other Points, Hints and Tips etc * ~
When we got off the bus there were loads of people selling things and 'harrassing' people to buy things off them, so beware of this.
The place was swarming - I have never seen so many people; so watch your bags and stick with the group; don't get lost, otherwise you will stay lost!
There were a couple of cafes in this place which I thought, whilst it was useful, it wasn't part of the original palace and so they looked too modern to be a part of something so grand and old.
There were also some 'tours' available, where a member of staff would take a group of people (it cost extra) round and give them a tour of the place), although when we heard them when we were in the queue, they only had two places left on that tour and there were six of us and the next tour was in a couple of hours which we wouldn't have time for.
I mentioned earlier that we had watched a video about Louis 14th, the King who lived here. It was at the time when the water system in Paris was in a right mess (about 200 years ago!). Despite the grandness of this Palace, the ones who lived their, including the King, Queen and 'their people', all relieved themselves in the corridors of this grand Palace - just anywhere! To think how grand this place is now, never mind a couple of hundred years ago (when I'm sure it was more grand then!) and yet they still didn't mind doing it anywhere in the corridors (apparently the whole place stank of poop and pee) - so the whole corridors were like one big toilet! It's so hard to believe!
Wear comfortable and flat shoes; there are a lot of cobbles (which takes around a five minute) walk towards the castle and I nearly 'went over' a couple of times, and that was in flats, so don't even think about wearing heels!
The toilets were free to use.
You can buy your tickets from the website, although we thought of this at the time, we decided not to, incase, as we were going as part of a tour, we didn't end up there in the end. However, if you are going as an individual (and not as part of a large group), then I would recommend that you get your tickets before going - it will save a whole load of queuing (it will save you hours!).
Despite the whole queuing, the rude staff and the crowdedness of the place, I would still definetely recommend a visit to this Palace. If you ever visit Paris, make sure to visit this Palace - you will be amazed.
When we went there it was absolutely boiling. We didn't think it would get that hot in Paris. So make sure you take a hat and sunglasses and sun cream.
Outside of the Palace there were soldiers walking about with guns which I thought was quite scary.
Thanks for reading!
xd-o-n-z-x (also posted under xdonzx on ciao)
well i thought the Palace was tres bien! It was a pity that they were renevating the hall of mirrors, but still what a magnificent building! There was, i felt an overload of Baroque decoration in some parts of the palace but that was just my taste. The only thing i would say to potential visitors is that be sure you know which entrance you're supposed to be using, i was standing in line for what felt like a lifetime with the French all pushing past me ( they have no concept of queing!!) Iwould definitely reccomen a visit, but be sure to go in Summer, the palace and the gardens are definitely at thier best then. Enjoy!!
p.s the town is definitely worth a visit too, specially on saturday, market day.
The more I learn about him, the less I like Louis XIV. Arrogant, autocratic, egotistical, capricious, vain. Of course, all despots are a bit that way inclined. It's an occupational hazard, but that doesn't make it any more appealing.
One of the few arguments for hereditary monarchy is that if you're going to have a despot it's better to have one born into the role rather than one who has clawed his way up the slippery pole, since almost by definition the self-made despot is going to display all the characteristics you'd least like to see in the job. With hereditary monarchs, luck of the draw comes into the equation and there's a chance they'll turn out half-human. But then chance sometimes works the other way and comes up with a Louis XIV, who seems to me to have been hardly human at all, not at least in the complimentary sense of the word.
Forgive me this introductory diatribe. I'm trying to come to terms with, or at least to articulate, why I deeply dislike Versailles. Not the town of Versailles, which is a pleasant enough suburban sort of place with some good cafés and an excellent market, but the palace. And the more I think about it, the more it comes down to the degree to which the palace, and its grounds, reflect the character of the king who caused it to be built.
You may, for all I know, already be aghast at such heresy. Don't all the guidebooks wax lyrical about Versailles' magnificence? Indeed they do. It's unique, a World Heritage Site, one of the greatest of the world's palaces. Two days minimum are needed for a proper visit, insists the Michelin Green Guide. Well, the Miche would say that, wouldn't it, full as it is of the glory and grandeur of France? These things are, of course, all a matter of taste, but to me Versailles is too grandiose, too inhuman in its scale, too tiring to trudge around, somehow too contemptuous of its visitors.
* History *
The product of envy and self-importance, Versailles got off to a bad start. It was built as a statement rather than a home. Indirectly, Louis' first finance minister, Fouquet by name, was to blame. Fouquet had commissioned the foremost architects and designers of the time to build him a palatial home at Vaux le Vicomte, which duly became the trendy rendezvous for the in-crowd of contemporary courtiers. As King, of course, Louis had an open invitation to be guest of honour, but that wasn't nearly enough for him. Following one of Fouquet's most lavish banquets, Louis had him arrested on a trumped-up charge and clapped in irons for life. If there was going to be a fashionable venue for courtiers to gather, it was going to be the King's own court, not that of a mere minister, and it was going to be of unrivalled splendour.
Louis promptly enlisted Fouquet's team - the architect Louis le Vau, interior designer and artist Charles le Brun and landscape gardener André le Nôtre - and set them to work on converting the royal hunting lodge at Versailles into the most prestigious palace in Europe. This was no small undertaking. The mound on which the main chateau was to stand had to be greatly enlarged, the surrounding swampland drained, rivers diverted and forests transplanted before the main task of construction could even begin.
Twenty years elapsed before Louis' court moved to Versailles in 1682. Two years later there were still 22,000 labourers and 6,000 horses at work on the site. It was to take another 46 years for it to be finally declared to be finished, although later monarchs naturally added their own embellishments. The cost was staggering; it has been estimated that the equivalent of half a year's GDP for the whole of France, at that time Europe's richest country, went into building Versailles, and anything from 5% to 25% of ongoing tax revenue into its upkeep and staffing.
All the guidebooks to Versailles are riddled with statistics of this kind. Somehow, it is impossible to describe the place without resorting to numbers to express its egregious scale. This seems to me to be no accident. Overawing people was always part of Louis' intention. Everything had to be bigger and better in order to intimidate subjects and visiting dignitaries alike.
* The Palace itself *
As a visiting non-dignitary you are likely to approach the palace from the town, past the vast former royal stables (the Grande and Petite Écuries) and across the vast Place d'Armes, now a coach park. From here one passes through a cordon of railings into another forecourt, almost as vast, flanked by two long buildings which formerly housed the King's ministers, suitably near at hand to do his biding. At the rear of this courtyard stands a statue of Louis on horseback, beyond which lies an inner courtyard known as the Royal Court, recessed into the vast frontage of the palace itself. To either side are confusingly different access points for various tours for groups and individual visitors.
Once you have found the right queue for your purposes, and waited in it, you will in due course be admitted to the palace itself. Less than half of the interior is open to the public, which is just as well. Inordinate stamina would be required to see all of the seven hundred rooms, not to mention trudging up and down the sixty-seven staircases. Full access would be wearying, most probably, to the senses as well as to the body, with the relentless bombardment of baroque ornamentation and ostentatious materials - marble and metal finishes - used wherever feasible and sometimes where not.
As matters stand, one has to take it on trust that the parts that are accessible are those most worth seeing. To list just a few of the more famous features, they include:
1. The King's Suite. Located, needless to say, at the very heart of the palace though on the first floor, approached by an ornate ceremonial staircase, and consisting of numerous salons, offices and chambers. The centrepiece is the King's Bedroom itself, which looks out, through three arched windows opening onto a gilded balcony, in the direction of the sunrise, in keeping with Louis' branding as "le roi soleil" ("the sun king"). His rising and retirement were all part of a court ritual that regulated every waking hour at Versailles, and those visiting the room even when the king was absent were required to bow to the royal bed. The present-day décor has all been reconstructed, but lavishly so, with elaborately carved woodwork picked out in gold everywhere, old masters on the walls, and gold and silver embroidered brocade forming the canopy of the four-poster bed, the curtains and the wall-hangings.
2. Surrounding the Royal Suite are the State Apartments - reception rooms and audience chambers. The most famous of these is the Galerie des Glaces (usually translated as Hall of Mirrors, though one never quite forgets Ben Reich's "kind of fancy for an ice cream parlor"). However translated, fancy it certainly is, even though the original silver furniture was melted down to help fund later wars. The hall stretches no less than 73m with seventeen windows overlooking the gardens, opposite which are seventeen panels each consisting of seventeen mirrors - 357 mirrors in all. It is lit by enormous crystal candelabra, both hanging from above and supported by gilt statues, and boasts a painted ceiling by Le Brun, featuring Louis depicted as a Roman Emperor, with a series of panels each designed to illustrate some aspect of the supposed benefits of his rule. Since Louis' reign, this hall has been the scene of much history - from the proclamation of the German Empire following the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War to the signing of the treaty of Versailles following the defeat of Germany in World War One - but with the sightseers trouping through it, I found it curiously lacking in atmosphere for all its magnificence.
3. The Grand Apartment. I'm still not clear in what way this suite of reception rooms is distinct from the adjacent suite known as the State Apartments; the original French nomenclature - Grand Appartement as opposed to Grands Appartements - makes the differentiation more rather than less obscure. Perhaps the clue lies in the name of the principal salon: the Abundance Salon; when you've got such an abundance of salons it's hard to keep thinking up new names for them. Anyway, for the record, there's any amount of mind-boggling baroque ornamentation here too - polychromatic marble; gilt, ormolu and brass; rich dark-coloured paintings; embossed velvet and brocade drapes; statues, illustrated stucco ceilings and so on.
4. The Chapel. It is a tribute to the ostentation of the rest of the palace that the Royal Chapel, built into the north wing, seems on entry to be relatively austere - dominated by two levels of white stone columns, the lower one supporting a gallery that surrounds the nave. But it is only relative, and the eye soon adjusts to notice the gilt detail in the carved stonework, the adornment of the marble altar with gilded bronze bas-reliefs, the inlaid patterned marble floor, the paintings and sculptures in the alcoves and, of course, yet another high-vaulted painted ceiling to cap it all.
5. The Royal Opera. Well, no palace would be complete without its own private opera-house/court theatre, would it? The one at Versailles is, needless to say, one of the largest of its kind, able to seat over 700 people in two balconies as well as the stalls, although the precise arrangement could be altered for different occasions with sophisticated machinery. Also, needless to say, the décor is elaborate; although the walls are entirely of wood for its acoustical properties, not a square centimetre is left undecorated in red, green and, of course, gold.
Those then are just a few of the more salient interior attractions. There are also the Queen's Suite, both King's and Queen's private apartments, and various galleries, salons and suites of a later era, some of them given over to museums. The history museum, dedicated "à toutes les gloires de la France", is the largest of its kind in the world. Well, it would be, wouldn't it? None of these features is modest in its scale or decoration, and there are lots of notable works of art to be seen among them. But if I detail them all you will become as punch-drunk reading about it as I did going round.
What did it all amount to, I kept asking myself, all this grandeur? Can one imagine the etiquette- and intrigue-circumscribed lives of the courtiers and courtesans, the serpentine sycophants who slithered around these gilded corridors, manoeuvring to catch the notice, and ultimately even the favour, of the king? Yes, one can, alas, and a deeply depressing vision it is.
* Gardens and Grounds *
At last one emerges into the gardens for a breath of fresh air. Most immediately, behind the palace, one finds oneself amid the parterres, formally laid out with geometrical flower-beds between box hedges. I am told that over 70,000 fresh plants a year were required to keep these parterres in bloom, but the impression is still one of stone and gravel rather than of greenery. Between the parterres, overlooked by the Galerie des Glaces, is a pair of vast ornamental fountains, complete with bronze figurines. The southern façade of the palace still dominates, but the terrace is so arranged as to provide views in all other directions.
The main view is westward, down over further descending terraces and water features flanked by hedged-off sub-gardens until the vista opens up to reveal the parkland surrounding the Grand Canal - a mile-long artificial lake that forms a cross with the Petit Canal - the centrepiece of the extended grounds. The use of water was a recurrent theme in Le Nôtre's grand design for the garden, and when the fountains are at play, they are magnificent and provide both coolness and visual relief from the vast open spaces. But they are seldom turned on, and one has to time one's visit specially (and pay more) to see them in full swing. Without the water spouting around them, the baroque bronzes in the huge pools look rather forlorn.
The view from the North parterre also descends to a water feature, in this case the Neptune basin, reached by a "water alley" - a watercourse running through a series of marble pools. The Neptune basin is one of the biggest and most ornate in the grounds, with statues of all kinds of gods - pretty well a full roll-call of classical deities could be conducted in the gardens of Versailles - dragons and sea monsters. But the view to this side is somewhat marred by a backdrop of the western extremities of Paris - not visible in the other directions.
To the south, a garden in the lee of the raised parterres is known as the Orangery, and shelters many of the more sensitive plants, some in conservatories, including citruses as its name implies. Beyond is yet another expanse of water, known as the Swiss Pond.
Let us descend down the main axis of the gardens towards the Grand Canal. This takes us first to the Latona Basin - more pools, more fountains, more statues - and then down an avenue surrounding a long green lawn, the Tapis Vert, to approach the Apollo Basin at the base.
Of to either side run little groves, hedged and often tree-lined, concealing a maze of sub-gardens, each with a different theme. Many are no long kept up, and cannot be entered by visitors, which makes their exploration rather unrewarding. But there are one or two little gems to be discovered, such as the Royal Garden, pleasantly informal in layout with bright flower-beds amid lawns, shrubberies and rare trees. In contrast, the Colonnade is an artifice of many-coloured marble columns and statues, but acquires charm by being hidden in a little grove.
* Parkland *
I've read somewhere that what is now called Le Grand Parc was originally Le Petit Parc; what remains is one tenth of the size of the expanse originally allocated for the King's pleasure and his hunting. At 2000 acres it is still large enough for most purposes. It is pleasant enough to wander round, but rather too orderly to imitate wild woodland walking.
The avenues are attractively lined with oak, ash, beech, linden and cherry trees but they are often wide and gravelly underfoot. Vistas are often dominated by the cruciform arms of the Grand and Petit Canals which, geometrically straight and flanked by lawns, look anything but natural waterways. Still, the park is relatively peaceful compared with the bustle of fellow-tourists with whom one is almost invariably surrounded in the formal gardens.
* Satellite attractions *
In a corner of the park are also found the Grand and Petit Trianons, together with their gardens, and also the Hameau, the "hamlet", a little cluster of cottages.
Trianon was originally the name of a village that Louis had demolished to make room for a pavilion, where he could retreat for light meals with his family and escape the protocol of the main palace. Since the protocol was largely of his own invention, imposed at his own insistence, this seems slightly perverse, but since when was consistency required of an absolute monarch? What we now know as the Grand Trianon was conceived as 'little palace of marble and porphyry with delightful gardens' and it has to be said that it is a charming building, with its pinkish colonnades, on a much more human scale than Versailles itself. Roses, orange trees and jasmine dominate the garden, which has a fine view down to the Grand Canal.
The Petit Trianon was built later, under Louis XV, and is architecturally a complete contrast, more classical in style, imposing but rather austere. The garden is another contrast, intimately landscaped in what is allegedly an "Anglo-Chinese" style, but studded with rare botanical specimens.
The lakeside "hamlet" is picture-book pretty, and according to anecdote was where the Queen Marie Antoinette and her ladies-in-waiting would play at being shepherdesses. Other sources pour scorn on this, claiming that she was far too attached to ceremonial to even condescend to amuse herself with anything so rustic. Similarly, no one seems to know for certain whether she actually said "let them eat cake" when she was told that the common people were complaining that they had no bread, but it was the sort of thing she might have said and the credibility of the characterisation did for her.
* Getting there and cost *
Versailles is just a dozen or so miles south-west of central Paris, and easily reached, either by SNCF train from St Lazaire station, or by RER (the fast outer suburban extension to the Metro system) line C. There are also buses from Pont de Sèvres.
Coming by car, Versailles is just off the A13 autoroute (exit Versailles-Château) that runs out from Paris towards Rouen. You can park, at a cost, in the Place d'Armes, or round the back of the park for nothing.
Similarly, there is no fee for entering the park and gardens. A day pass to all the attractions within the Chateau grounds costs Euro25 on public holidays, Euro20 at other peak season times, and Euro16 in the winter. To see the Chateau only costs Euro13, or Euro10 out of season. This includes audio-guides; if you want a real live guide droning on at you it costs more. Minors get in free - a generous concession, so go looking young. It is worth knowing that tickets can be bought in advance at railway stations and tourist offices, helping you to avoid the queue if you can find the right way in.
To alleviate the fatigue of walking round the grounds you can hire a bike for Euro6 an hour, or a nasty little golf-buggy-like contraption for Euro20 an hour. However, the latter has a control that only allows you to follow a set, approved itinerary while it lectures you automatically about what you are looking at. Sounds well worth avoiding to me. More fun looked the rowing boats for hire on the Grand Canal, but I forgot to check the cost.
If you want to stay in Versailles itself, there are plenty of hotels. We liked the look of the Cheval Rouge, picturesquely situated behind the market, although it might be noisy early in the morning on market days (Thursday and Saturday). The town is nothing special architecturally, but is attractive enough and well worth a wander round, if only to enjoy a drink at one of the animated cafés while you recover from the chateau.
* When to go *
Avoid midsummer at all costs, when the crowds are intolerable and the heat makes the long trek around even more tiring still than usual. Spring and early Autumn seem like the best times to me; Winter might improve the landscape but the gardens would not be at their floral best.
Try to arrive early in the morning, again to avoid the worst of the crowds. The chateau itself opens at 9.00, the Trianon complex not till 12.00, but if you visit the chateau first you won't reach them till then anyway.
Finally, don't go on a Monday. It's closed.
* Conclusion *
Yes, reflecting on how much there is to see, I regret to say that the green Miche is right; it probably takes two days to "do" Versailles properly, but what a chore that would be.
When I first visited Versailles as a teenager - many years ago - I was dutifully impressed, even if not much attracted, by it. Going back, I hoped to appreciate it more, but found I liked it even less. Maybe I was too young then and am now too old, too set in my prejudices. Versailles is impressive, but also oppressive. For all its showy opulence and artistic extravagance, it strikes me as far from beautiful, and possessed of very little charm.
So, after all that grouching, do I recommend a visit? Despite everything, I suppose I should. No one can quite match the French at making you feel you ought to appreciate what they have to offer at the same time as resenting doing so, but the sense of obligation persists just the same. Versailles is, after all, unique, a World Heritage Site, one of the greatest of the world's palaces and all that stuff.
Go, if you find yourself in Paris with a day or two to spare. Be impressed, if you must, and as you probably will be. Like it, if you can. I can't.
© First published under the name torr on Ciao UK, November 28th 2006.
As I stepped off the coach the heavens opened and rain began to cascade from the sky. I was experiencing my first Parisian rain and, far from being, the imagined romantic drifting soft dew I would have expected from the precipitation of such a fine city, the water poured down like a monsoon. I trudged my way to the Palace's courtyard, followed at a more sedate pace by the members of the Newdigate Women's Institute. (Although not a member myself, not qualifying by some 40 years, the offer to join them in Paris at only £75 for two nights including travel had been irresistible). Our guide disappeared into the frighteningly large queue outside the Palace to obtain our tickets. Meanwhile I, as one of the few able-bodied people present, assisted the old ladies in remaining vertical on the slippery cobbles, in a manner akin to plate spinning on long poles. After a fifteen minute wait and bribing the officials we were allowed in a side entrance, skipping the queue, where rumour had it that the wait stretched over an hour. I had always imagined the Palace to be one of the most opulent and impressive in Europe and was particularly looking forward to seeing the famous Hall of Mirrors. The first room did not disappoint and the ceiling was emblazoned with images of idle gods and the walls covered with huge canvases depicting members of the old royal families and of Napoleon and his battles (strangely not a single portrayal of Waterloo or Trafalgar in site). There were very few signposts or explanatory notes and so, in retrospect a guide book might have been handy, as would taking one of the offered guided tours. However, I quickly learned to despise the guided tour as they quickly blocked each room causing a swiftly growing backlog of people jostling to get from room to room. The second room again did not disappoint; a large bed decorated with ostrich feathers, walls with luxuriant wallpaper and large paint
ings. However, as I entered the third room I began to realise that once you have seen one room in Versailles you have seen them all. There are only so many paintings and ceilings that you can oh and ah over before you start to get an impending feeling of déjà vu. The Palace was not as rich as I had expected it to be. I only spotted one chandelier! The tapestries and wallpapers seemed faded and uncared for and the rooms looked as though they had been stripped and the contents left out for the rag and bone man, as most of the rooms were devoid of furniture. This meant that it was difficult to obtain a true picture of what life would have been like there. The other disappointing aspect was that it was impossible to admire the site and to absorb the ambience when you have someone's video camera stuck in your ear, an American prodding you with his camera and a child trying to squeeze through your legs. The Palace was too crowded and this stripped any remaining atmosphere from its walls. When I finally emerged at the end of the tour I noted that the passage through the limited number of rooms open to the public had taken only 40 minutes. I then queued to use the lavatories, which took 25 minutes and cost me 0.40 Euros. The queues for the Palace and Loos were comparable as was the value for money! The grounds, which stretch over four square kilometres, are famed for their beauty and from what I could see contained lovely topiary, small shaped hedges containing flowerbeds, fountains and the usual manor house type gardens. The prospect of queuing and paying again for the grounds in the middle of a monsoon was not attractive, so I skipped this little delight and returned to the coach and my awaiting baguette. PALACE HISTORY The Palace was built by Louis XIV in 1664 (to 1715) after he had become jealous of his one of his minister's houses, the beautiful chateau at Fontainebleu. After his death the
Palace was left vacant for a while until inhabited by Louis XV, remaining the official residence of the royal family until the Revolution in 1789, after which it was left to stand and decay until it was turned into a museum in 1837, although it was not until the 20th century that full restoration works began. VISITING INFORMATION Cost: 7.50 Euros (plus your money for the loos) Location: 20 km southwest of Paris Transport: From Paris take the RER Line C train to Versailles Rive-Gauche. (Trains depart every ten minutes - doesn't sound much like British Rail!)
No trip to France, and certainly no sojourn in the Ile-de-France, the region surrounding and encompassing Paris, could ever claim to be anywhere near complete if it did not include a visit to the Royal town of Versailles. Versailles is of course home to the world's (rightly) most famous palace, but not only that: it contains many fine town houses, churches, a Cathedral, and is a town well worth spending time in. Before the seventeenth century Versailles was just the location of a Royal hunting lodge, built by Louis XIII, the remnants of which are incorporated into the central structure of the palace as we know it now. The rest was just a vast, vast forest, and nothing more than a small village. Following political unrest in Paris in his youth, Louis XIV decided to move the Royal court from the Louvre, to Versailles. Versailles had two principal attracts; although not in Paris it is not too distant- half a day's coach ride at the time; and furthermore, the buildings that did exist there had been built by Louis XIV father. SO it was that a small hunting lodge was slowly transformed into a treasure house of baroque art and architecture and a small village became the lovely town that we know today. The palace was largely built under Louis XIV, by the architect Mansart. However subsequent kings have also left their mark on the palace. Louis XV built the Opera House (for the wedding of Louis XVI), and the charming set of rooms known as the petit apartements, which form a delightful contrast to the grand and stately rooms of Louis XIV. The gardens, laid out in the formal French style and littered with fountains and statues are worth a visit in their own right. One general recommendation: go early in the morning, and as far out of the tourist season as possible. If you do the latter, you will have the opportunity to hear concerts in the magnificent acoustic of the chapel, which is one the gems of the restrained, 'style classique'.
The town itself has been marked by the presence, for one hundred and twenty years, of the court. Thus many of the more beautiful town houses and churches are contempories of the palace. Of particular note are the restrained and slightly austere elegance of the Cathedral, built during the reign of Louis XV, and the Musee Lambinet, which is housed in a rich merchant's town house and which affords a sneek into the furniture and lifestyle of a rich denizen of Versailles in the eighteenth century. The town is very bourgeois, and so there are many charming shops, anitque shops in particular, to charm when (and this should be a matter of years!) the architectural wonders of the town have ceased to do so.
Home to the Sun King and a part of my heart Versailles must surely be the most spectacular palace in Europe. I have been to Versailles twice so far and have still not managed to see it all. I was expecting it to be grand but nothing on the scale of what is found at Versailles. Versailles was the home to the French kings from 1682 until the Revolution of 1789 brought the monarchy to an end. I’m afraid I really don’t know that much about the history behind it all and to be honest I am not too interested. Long, long ago I read some historical romances featuring Angelique as the heroine set in that period and prefer to recall the romance and elegance rather than the no doubt rather depressing reality of history. So forget the history and be transported back to a fairy tale age of luxury and romance where handsome kings and beautiful queens, dressed in rustling silk and powdered wigs dance in glorious salons lit by thousands of candles. Join them as they walk or ride in the perfect gardens or sail on the Grand Canal in Gondolas. There is so much to see at Versailles that it is difficult to know where to begin. The chateau is obviously impressive but has been copied so often that it seems in some ways familiar. It is the gardens and the grottoes and the sheer size of the whole that has captured my heart and imagination. These stunning formal gardens epitomise French Classicism and the immense scale of this elegant creation testifies to the ‘Sun King’s’ power not only over his people but, at least in his own mind, over nature itself. Here countless fountains are operated to command and the vast sea like Grand Canal is, by artificial means, kept calm. Everywhere you look you will find characters from myth and legend held captive in a pool or fountain at the behest of a French king. There are fabulous fountains everywhere, fountains for seasons, fountains for gods. Apollo emerges from the water to gre
et the king and the fountain of Enceladus shows the fallen Titan struggling amongst the rocks – he waits until commanded when a gushing fountain will spout from his open mouth. The grandest fountains are those of the fountain of Neptune which has 99 jets. This is where the evening performances are held. The fountains only operate at certain times and although we did not know this we were lucky enough to catch them in action. They are unbelievable and the music which plays in certain areas adds to the atmosphere even more. I think they are set off at 11.30 and 3.30 on Sundays and some Saturdays but it is best to check on the website. Do not miss them. Another impressive sight is the Orangery where in summer over 1000 orange trees and palms, in their Versailles tubs, are wheeled out from the safety of the Orangery to bask in the sun. The king apparently had far more than these. There are several uniquely individual groves or grottoes which are enclosed and secret. When you discover them you feel you have found treasure. I have not yet seen them all but of those I have by far the most impressive is le Bosquet des Rocailles. It was designed as an outdoor ballroom and I can’t think of anything more romantic than dancing under the stars with giant candelabras reflecting from the water cascading down the rock terraces. Beyond the gardens approached by half a mile of the Royal Avenue is the Grand Canal. This 104 acres of water in its heyday saw naval ships playing naval games and gondolas for pleasure. So to the buildings: apart from the main chateau there are also a couple of baby chateaux. The largest is the Trianon which the king used for getting away from it all. It’s a pretty pink palace for family use as opposed to the whole court. The Petit Trianon was Marie-Antoinette’s special little getaway and nearby is her picturesque little hamlet. The hamlet has a farmhouse, a mill, dairy, dovecote a
nd lake. Here Marie-Antoinette played at being a country girl, milking the sweet little cows and shepherding scented sheep. Perhaps Beethoven had something similar in mind when he composed his Pastoral symphony – it certainly came into my head when I saw it. Midway between the petit Trianon and the hamlet is the Temple of love – a nice place for a picnic. Finally, there is the main chateau itself. I only took a quick visit here – really only to escape the poring rain. It is, as is to be expected very spectacular. Highlights include the Hall of mirrors where the famous treaty of Versailles was signed ending the war. The 17 mirrors were the height of extravagance at a time when mirrors were rare and expensive. These mirrors face matching windows which overlook the gardens and the website says this room looks best in the afternoon when the sun gleams through the windows and is reflected everywhere – I can imagine that it does. Anyway I think I’d better stop now - my typing finger is tired and I’m sure you’ve got the gist of what I’m saying by now which is that this place is simply superb – do visit it if you can. ~ * ~ Getting there ~ * ~ The official website has detailed information of the various ways of travelling to Versailles including links to timetables. We took the RER Line C Gare d’Orleans-Austerlitz to Versailles. This takes about half an hour and cost about 26F for the round trip. Be sure, however, to go in the right direction as this can be a source of confusion. Going to Versailles you need Versailles (RG) Rive Gauche NOT Versailles (CH) Chantiers. For four people it would probably also be economical to take a taxi, with the added bonus of being dropped where you want including in the park. ~ * ~ Prices and Times ~ * ~ The Chateau is closed on Mondays. There are different admission prices to the various attractio
ns. Entrance to the main chateau is 46F and 35F after 3.30 (I think this is covered by the Paris Museum pass if you get one). It is a good idea to visit the website and decide which bits you would most like to see and plan accordingly because it is impossible to see everything in one visit. There is a combined ‘passport’ ticket if you do have all day there. Guided tours are also available. ~ * ~ Other Hints ~ * ~ There are very few places to eat or drink within Versailles which I think is very strange given the French passion for food and the size of the place. So it is advisable to take refreshments with you. Although officially there is only one picnic place I don’t think this is heavily enforced.There is a Macdonalds, if you are desperate, opposite the railway station. Check out the website for ideas of what you want to see. Transport is available to the Grand Canal, the Hamlet and the Trianons by small trains 35F return and horse drawn carriage 21F single – either of these would be worth taking as it is a long walk. We took the train to the Hamlet and explored our way back. Cycles can be hired at the Grand Canal at 25F per hour, as can rowing boats in season. I also noticed at their website details of 90 minute ‘Spectacles’ held at various times on summer evenings. Having seen the fountains in full glory I can just imagine how wonderful one of these performances might be with drama, music and fireworks added as well. I certainly hope I get the opportunity to see one. Website is at http://www.chateauversailles.fr/
The palace of the 'Roi Soleil', Louis XIV, is a thing of splendour, majesty and pomp, definitely not to be omitted from your tour of France. The work at Versailles began after the young king visited Nicholas Fouquet at his chateau, Vaux-Le-Vicomte; overcome with jealousy, Louis set about the realisation of his own dream. Building commenced in 1661, as Louis consecrated his status of 'absolute' king with a palace that reflected his greatness. He brought together the finest architects, artists and gardeners from across Europe to fabricate this monument 'A Toutes Les Gloires De La France'. Now this venue has a wonderful history for me, as my grandparents met and fell in love while walking around Versailles, (just at the end of the war), and romance is prevalent in the corridors, appartements and grounds of the Palace. The ' Grands Appartements' of the king consist of salons dedicated to Greek and Roman gods, (Diane, Mars, Apollo), and a spectacular 'Gallerie des Glaces', (gallery of ice). The gallery was used as a passageway between the king's appartements and the chapel. It was here that the king met with courtisans and visitors before returning to the mass. The exalted decoration of this room will overawe you: 73 metres of gold and marble reflected in an abundance of mirrors and extra-extravagent chandeliers. (Gallerie des Glaces, decorated by Le Brun, 1681-1685). I can't write about Versailles without mentioning the gardens, these are quintessential; the imposing of order on nature that makes French gardening famed worldwide. These are also dedicated to Roman and Greek gods, and then ordered thematically within each domain: Venus, north, a 'rond point' (doesn't translate well as a rounabout!) of philosophers houses five ancient greek sages - statues of Pittaus, Isocrate, Theophraste, Lysias and Ulysee. Probably the most dramatic attraction of the gardens is
39;Le Baissin de Neptune', a fountain that faces Versailles and the statue of Apollo (representative of the sun and Louis XIV himself). Neptune and his chariot are semi-submerged, and four deranged horses drag him from the murky depths; I have never seen a statue that stirs with life as this one does. The history of Versailles does not end with Louis XIV, it transcends through the centuries of French monarchs and emperors, each adding or taking away as tastes dictated. Highlights of these modifications are the appartements of Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry. Not to be forgotten, purely for the folly involved, is 'Le Hameau de la Reine': This is a small village in the grounds that was built for Marie-Antoinette, (let them eat cake), in 1783, so that she could play at being a lowly milkmaid. The servants were required to roleplay, fisherman, baker etc. at the Queen's whim. No wonder there was a revolution. I definitely suggest a guide tour, or at least a guidebook, as you do not want to miss any aspect of this immense splendour.
The Château de Versailles, or simply Versailles, is a royal château in Versailles, France. In English it is often referred to as the Palace of Versailles. When the château was built, Versailles was a country village, but it is now a suburb of Paris with city status in its own right. From 1682, when King Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in 1789, the Court of Versailles was the centre of power in Ancien Régime France.