There is so much to see at Versailles, you should spend at least a full day there, if not more.
If you have time, don’t just do the standard palace visit with all the crowds, get out into the gardens if the weather is nice and go and see where Marie Antoinette used to escape from the crowds back then. Yes, Versailles has always been crowded! The Petit Trianon is about a 20 minute walk from the Palace, and is a haven of beauty and calm.
The Petit Trianon was given to Marie Anoinette by her husband King Louis XVI (who gave her a key encrusted with diamonds), and as soon as you step in you can see why she wanted to spend as much time here as possible. Set in beautiful gardens which she loved, the Petit Trianon is intimate, elegant and full of light. She would come here with her close friends and ladies in waiting, and relax, away from the protocol and prying eyes of the court.
I seriously want to live here, and one of the many things that convinced me was Marie Antoinette’s boudoir. Not only is it gorgeous, but she could press a button and wooden panels with huge mirrors on would slide up from below and cover the windows. Or vice versa, depending on the weather or her mood… you can see it here with one right up and the other not quite up to the top.
I was here for work and was lucky to be accompanied by the lady with the key who can open the doors that are usually locked to the public.
Upstairs are the rooms of her closest ladies in waiting, and the king’s bedroom when he was visiting, with spectacular views over the gardens.
And there’s more. She had a theatre built where she could act on the stage. The courtiers were not allowed to watch her, so her servants and their families would make up the audience. Again we were lucky enough to have it unlocked and go right in, usually you can see it through a glass door. I even got to go on the stage and imagine I was her… And I learned from the wonderful guide who was with me, that everything in there is made of cardboard and papier maché. The people believed the Trianon had walls covered with gold and diamonds, but in fact the truth, and the real Marie Antoinette, was quite different.
Further out in the gardens you come to Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet, a Normandy style farming village (completely fake, a couple of farmers were hired to tend to it for her) where she would come and imagine she was living the simple country life, eating produce from the farm and enjoying the freedom of the gardens that she loved so much. It consists of 11 houses, 5 of which she and her ladies in waiting would use. Their rustic country facades hid elegant rooms inside where they would be served dinner or play cards. There were for example 2 dairies, one where normal milking activites took place, and one clean one where the milk would be placed on a marble counter for her to come and drink! She was provided with the fairy tale version of a country life; the wheel on the water mill was not attached to any kind of mill inside… it’s all a beautiful illusion. Vegetable gardesns, orchards and alleys covered with flowers were planted, fishing was provided in the lake, or boating.
UPDATE! Dior are currently financing the renovation the Queen’s house and it should be open to the public in 2017.
I spent a wonderful sunny morning here and can’t wait to come back again and again. I really recommend a visit, you can come without visiting the palace, or take the little electric train (or hire a Versailles golf cart!) from the palace if it’s too far to walk.
Meanwhile, I’m off to buy a book about the life of Marie Antoinette.
UPDATE! If you want to learn more, I recommend Marie Antoinette by Stefan Zweig.
- Petit Trianon, Château de Versailles
Take the RER C from central Paris to Versailles Rive Gauche Chateau.
Or take the train from Paris St Lazare to Versailles Rive Droite