As I said in my last post about Paris, it is crazy hot there during August. It’s no wonder why the royals spent so much time in their country estates. The displays went so far as to describe the royal court as “nomadic” because they would move around at least once a season, often more. The size of the entourage depended on the accommodations available, so you had to receive a specific invitation to join the king even if you were part of the court.
In the case of the various Louis-es who built up the magnificent Versailles palace over the generations, getting out of Paris in the summer also had a lot to do with keeping their distance from an increasingly agitated populace. Versailles was little more than a hunting lodge on a large, forested swath of land when it began. (Which is why it is still technically known as “Chateau Versailles.) But by its height, it was one of the most opulent palaces in the world. There’s a great exhibit on the first floor that includes models of the different iterations of the palace and surrounding buildings, plus the sketches they used to plan out the muraled ceilings.
Tips for visiting the palace:
- Buy your ticket ahead of time and you can skip the line completely. There is a 27 euro ticket that gets you timed entry to the palace, plus admittance to all of the other buildings and gardens. The line for people buying their tickets on site was crazy long, but we hopped in the express lane and were in within 10 minutes with our passes.
- The palace is not air-conditioned, so a fan comes in handy.
- They don’t allow selfie-sticks, but you’ll still have to dodge people every few feet taking them. Getting clear pictures of anything below head level without random people in it is nearly impossible. Still, it’s the ceilings, giant paintings, and other architectural features that stand out anyway, and they are all up high.
- There’s a free audio tour. All you have to do is wait in a line that looks really long but is actually super fast and 100% worth it. There is a main tour that stays the same, and additional recordings for a specific theme. This is the “Year of Cuisine”, so we got some cool info and descriptions of the kinds of parties held in the palace.
The Gardens of Versailles
Eventually, the entire government moved out of Paris to shack up at Versailles, and the sprawling gardens became central to court life. There are shady grottos, amazing statues, and of course, fountains fountains fountains.
Tips for visiting the Gardens of Versailles Palace:
- Wear a hat. Paris is FULL of hats in the summer. We actually bought some really comfortable hats made of 100% paper at one of the tourist shops on our way to the garden. They were light weight but didn’t budge when the wind blew. The only bummer of our entire vacation was that when we changed trains on the way home, we accidentally left them in the hat rack. I’m not sure I’ll ever find a hat I like as much again! But at least I had it for this fantastic day.
- If you don’t want to visit the palace itself, there’s a separate ticket for the garden. You can come and go throughout the day as long as you hold on to your ticket.
- There are side gates, but they don’t open as early as the main one. If you get there before 11 AM, you might as well go in through the front despite seeing the inevitable long line. (I’ve got a tip to beat that problem, too. Keep reading!)
- When we visited, they turned off most of the fountains during the hottest part of the day, starting around noon and ending around three. I assume it was to conserve water. As pretty as the manicured flower beds are on their own, it’s really the fountains that make these gardens special.
- There are several parts to the gardens, and this area closest to the palace is just one. If you aren’t up to walking the whole way around, there are a couple of options. There are golf carts to rent (though they were all rented out before noon and no idea the waiting period after that) or a little “train” that takes you to specific stops around the grounds, including the Petit Trianon where Marie Antoinette commissioned the English garden. The train 8 euros per person and so worth it.
The English Garden
In addition to the main palace, there are smaller villas at Versailles that family members used at different times. The Grand and Petit Trianon buildings have more furniture and dishes than the main palace, but less historical information. The highlight of this part of the visit for me was visiting the English Garden. Marie Antoinette loved to dress up and play peasant in this quirky section of the estate, complete with twee cottages and vegetable gardens. Though it may seem strange for a queen to “escape” into this kind of environment, I know my eyes were tired after looking at all of the interiors of the palace. Add a big dollop of the bizarrely public life of the French monarchs, and I can totally understand why she’d needed a break. It felt like strolling through a fairy tale.
This wraps up day 2 of my recent trip to Paris. Tune in next week for a look at Montmartre and the Dali Museum.