After a much needed three month detox from writing, I am ready to bring you my first post. As you must imagine I am desperately missing Paris, who wouldn’t? It’s 2018 which gives me every reason to let go of my 2017 regrets. But I can’t help it. Even after spending so much time in Paris I still regret not spending more. However, setting personal emotions aside, my first post after my lengthy hiatus is not going to be about Paris, though it is an easy day trip by train from the city. I want to talk about Versailles. Wealth, beauty, and magnificence – it’s an easy subject to gush over.
This was my third trip to the extraordinary palace but each time I am still struck by its grandeur. That much gold leaf and decadence could easily turn most buildings into monstrosities of gaudy excess, but Versailles is nothing if not elegant. The gardens and park are free to explore except on days where the gardens have musical and fountain shows. I like to get to Versailles early and explore the gardens and park in the morning sun before all of the tourists descend. The gardens are a beautiful maze of hedges and fountains – a true gem in artful landscaping. It’s peaceful and despite its size, surprisingly cosy and secluded in spots. It is one of my favourite places to disappear with a book for a few hours.
The rest of the park is enormous, stretching from the rear of the palace for as far as the eye can see. It is easy to get lost in, believe me it has happened to me on several occasions. The park has miniature palaces of its own – the Grand and Petit Trianons – but my favourite spot is the Hameau de la Reine. The complete antithesis of the palace, this rustic oasis was built for Marie Antoinette. I guess even the Queen wanted to escape her royal duties and live the life of a peasant on occasion. Or rather, what she might have understood to be the life of a peasant, the infamous line ‘let them eat cake’ was after all attributed to her. The complex is complete with a water mill and a rustic tower. Farm animals still roam in large pens to add to the overall effect.
The line to get into the actual palace can be daunting but it moves very quickly and it is well worth it. Inside, the highlight of the palace is easily the Hall of Mirrors. It is the most unique room in the palace and as a bit of a history geek, I get giddy just walking into the room. It embodies everything that led to the downfall of the French monarchy – the unimaginable wealth, the immense vanity and the misguided belief that they were untouchable. Despite this, I would give anything to have had one night at one of the Sun King Louis XIV’s, elaborate parties. One can only imagine the furtive glances in the mirrors at secret lovers or women sizing up the competition – kind of like a high school prom, only ten times more extravagant.
And Don’t Forget about Sweet Treats …
It’s important to not take on Versailles without sustenance. I love to stop at one of my favourite boulangeries, Aux Pains de la Ferme and pick up a baguette and a patisserie for lunch. There are plenty of beautiful spots in the park for a picnic but personally I love the palace’s rear steps. It’s dusty and can be noisy but the view is unbeatable. The steps stretch down into the gardens and you can see all the way down the park’s mall. It is the best place to really take in the true magnificence of Versailles. It is easy to visualise the decadent firework displays and richly clad courtiers wandering the gardens living in the lap of luxury – a beautiful, albeit somewhat corrupt, paradise.
Who else has visited Versailles? Let me know your favourite spots! After all, I will definitely be returning …
Top: The Palace and Gardens
Middle: The Orangery; The Grand Canal; The Palace
Bottom: Bassin de Latone
Photography by Savannah Hayes