Before my trip to Paris, I asked friends who have been to the city for suggestions of places to visit. Almost everyone mentioned making a day trip to the Château de Versailles. Words used to describe the palace and grounds were, “it’s so beautiful”, “the gardens are breathtaking” and “if you love architecture, you’ll appreciate it”. That was enough to make me allocate a whole day to explore this centuries-old château. I timed my visit on a weekend so that my Parisian friend, Clare, could join me.
The Château, or Palace of Versailles, was the official residence of the King of France from the late 17th century, for almost a century. This UNESCO World Heritage site is located about 17 kilometers from central Paris in the city of Versailles.
Getting to Versailles was pretty simple; we took the RER C and stopped at the Versailles-Rive Gauche station. From the station, it was an easy walk to the chateau, it took us about 15 minutes or so. We got a little confused while trying to find our direction (and I used the excuse to peek into the dessert shops along the way), but almost everyone we asked knew where the chateau was and pointed us to the right direction.
Château de Versailles
Upon reaching the palace, we were greeted by throngs of cars, tour groups and visitors. Everyone wanted to make their way into the chateau to get a glimpse of its beauty. That’s where my ‘Museum Pass’ came in handy; I managed to skip the ticket queue.
Entering the palace however, I was hit with another wave of people– all crowding around and trying to walk in line through the beautifully designed rooms and chambers. Thankfully, the presence of the crowd didn’t lessen the magnificence of the palace; the place is stunning. The opulent interior and the gorgeous paintings on the walls and ceiling are a sight to behold. Each room, bedchamber and hall are color themed and decorated with the most beautiful French art pieces and furniture. All I could do was stare in awe as I followed the crowds from one room to the next. The most dazzling room of all is the Hall of Mirrors– chandeliers, paintings, statues and high window arches decorated with… well, lots of mirrors.
After touring the Versailles Palace, we had a short walk around the Versailles Gardens next to the chateau. Everything about the garden was thoroughly thought out and laid according to plan. I have never seen such a perfect looking garden– and I only saw a small portion of its 800 hectares. It is filled with manicured lawns, groomed flowers and perfectly placed sculptures and fountains.
There were lots of people hanging out in the garden under the summer sun, especially around the many fountains. I wanted to spend more time here, but Clare suggested that we head on further into the grounds for some peace and quiet away from the crowds.
To get around the vast grounds of Versailles, there’s a mini-train service. It leaves from the North Terrace of the palace, and tickets cost €7.50 (US$8). The queues are long, we had to wait in line for about half an hour or so. We didn’t mind waiting for the train though, as the Grand Trianon (where we were headed) is a long distance away– probably a 45 minutes walk. The mini-train makes a loop, stopping at the Grand Canal, the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon.
The Grand Trianon
The mini-train dropped us off at the Grand Trianon, built in the early 18th century and served as a retreat for the King and his mistress. It is much smaller and less grand than the Palace of Versailles, but the interior is just as lavish with its specially designed bedchambers and rooms. I love the palace’s pinkish exterior as it is made from pink marbles (how sweet!), and the checkered black and white flooring on its outdoor patio. It has a lovely garden too.
The Petit Trianon
A short walk away from the Grand Trianon is the Petit Trianon, located within the huge park of the Grand Trianon. It was built in the mid 18th century and later served as a private chateau to Queen Marie Antoinette. It is said to be her quiet place, nobody could visit without her permission. The interior of the chateau is simple yet elegant; and I was intrigued by the mechanics of the dining table that can be lowered and raised through the floor so that it can be set without the servants being seen. How cool is that!
The Queen’s Hamlet
This is my favorite place in Versailles, and I understand why Queen Marie Antoinette loved it. The Queen’s Hamlet is located behind the Petit Trianon, and is a working village– complete with an animal farm, vegetable patches and watermills. It is a place where the Queen could experience simple rural life, away from the duties of the palace.
The village, or hamlet, is pretty isolated and away from the main tourist track– so it was practically empty during my visit. I had a whole village to myself to explore as I wished. The village houses are so pretty and quaint with its chimneys, small wooden gates and rose bushes; I felt like I was transported back in time. Surrounding the village is miles and miles of green grass, trees and lakes, the perfect spot for a picnic if only I brought some food. I would have fed some to the beaver I spotted!
If there was just one other place to choose to visit in Versailles other than the main palace, the Queen’s Hamlet would be it. I spent the rest of my day in the village and the park.
When in Versailles
According to Clare, no trip to Versailles (the town!) is complete without tasting the best crepe in the world. And I have to say, after trying it, I have to agree. It’s absolutely delicious! There is a whole row of restaurants offering this sweet or savory dish near the town’s market square, just choose one and pair your crepe with a bowl of apple or pear cider. Clare’s favourite place is the ‘Creperie Saint Louis’. I ordered the cheese, ham and egg crepe.
Restaurant: Creperie Saint Louis
Where: 15 Rue Ducis, 78000 Versailles.