Before our big trip to Europe I had read online mostly from fellow bloggers that if there is one palace to see in France, it is the Chateau de Versailles a UNESCO world heritage site previously the epicentre of the political system as well as residence to three great reigning kings. A work of art the 17th century palace is steeped in history. It is also recognised as the place where World World I ceased. The town of Versailles (pronounced vehr-sigh) is a 30 minute train ride from the centre of Paris and after that it is a lovely 10 minute walk from the train station.
On a cold winter’s day we arrived late in the afternoon following a procession of people all the way from the train station, the Chateau is a popular attraction for France drawing in local and international crowds all year round. We soon found ourselves at the rather large gates and despite our ‘backpacker appearance’ our entrance through those gates felt slightly grand walking towards the glistening and extravagant palace.
Entrance to the Chateau de Versailles
Included in the standard admission price is an audio guide and headphones. The audio guide contained quite a bit of detail, perfect for those that wish to take their time exploring the Chateau. To fully appreciate the extravagance of the Chateau and it’s grounds, here are a few facts that I had read on the train;
- – Inside is a 700 seat Royal Opera House
- – The Hall of Mirrors houses 357 mirrors and 17 windows overlooking the gardens, it is spectacular and clearly a place for vanity
- – It is a one hour walk from the Chateau to the other end of the grounds
- – The gardens took 40 years to complete
- – The grand canal was almost built by hand apart from the wheel barrows that were used to move the soil
- – Trees for the garden were bought in from the various provinces of France
- – The Orangerie trees would be moved into a greenhouse for the winter months
- – The Treaty of Versailles was signed in the Hall of Mirrors effectively ending World War I
- – The guard room is where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette surrendered to the revolution
- – It is interesting to note, that the town of Versailles was laid out along an eight mile axis and incorporates the royal Chateau
As we wandered through the Chateau, I imagined a picture of past kings and queens pacing and gracing the long corridors. I wondered if my camera lens would break from the intricate detailing of the rooms. The features unfolded to be regent red and gold colours, large wall consuming oil paintings and heavy draping curtaining over the windows that you would need a ladder to clean and royal beds that you would need a step to climb into! As we passed into a foyer before the Hall of Mirrors the walls were almost entirely made of marble containing some stunning plaster.
The Hall of Mirrors, also known as Le Grand Galerie was grand and opulent. There were three hundred and fifty seven mirrors built into seventeen arches on one wall and on the other seventeen matching windows, enough mirrors to rival the Venetians in Italy! I admired the countless chandeliers, marble pilasters, hand painted artworks on the curved ceiling and intricate architraves. Having painstakingly painted the ceiling at home using rollers, I can only imagine the skill required to paint artwork onto a curved surface! We were told the exterior side of the Chateau has two man made fountains (I believe the size of an Olympic sized pool) that were strategically positioned to reflect the sunlight into the Hall of Mirrors.
The Hall of Mirrors
Shortly after walking through The Hall of Mirrors we found ourselves stepping out onto the crushed rubble of a terrace with an expansive view of the gardens. The gardens span in three cardinal directions and Marie Antionette’s residence can be found at the other end. It takes just over an hour to walk from one end of the garden to the other. In the middle of winter, the air was incredibly chilly but the surroundings immediately distracted us from the cold. Outside it was peaceful and spacious, a welcomed change from the crowds inside.
We spotted a golf cart hire place on the Orangerie side of the Chateau and with only two hours left until closing time, we went for it. The golf cart moved at a jogging pace as we followed a set out path around the grounds.
Exploring the grounds on a golf cart
The gardens are a resultant vision of past reigning kings, each one adding their own touches, executed to achieve a maximum visual impact. The layout of the gardens were symmetrical to the eye even down to the placement of the trees. The woodland was cleared by manual labour (no machinery), wheelbarrows and carts moved the sand.
Row boats at the Grand Canal
The perfectly shaped lake known as Grand Canal is man made, a creation by Andre Le Notre in the late 1600’s and The King of Venice sent two gondolas up to the Chateau. Visitors can hire row boats on the Grand Canal.
The gardens take on a different appearance in winter, harsh and dramatic. A few of the statues were covered for protection and many of the trees were naked in appearance. The Orangerie trees were stored in the greenhouse, they are rolled out in the summer months. The 200 year old trees were sourced from various parts of Europe, only the best for the king!
Geometric garden beds and Ceres Fountain
The fountains around the Chateau grounds are just amazing, they are big and dramatic depicting a scene frozen in time. Below is a photo of the really large Apollo Fountain. Apollo is seared on his chariot, to me it is a powerful scene and one of my favourite fountains. Look at those trees perfectly planted, there appeared to be an emphasis on exact measurements.
We had a lot of fun exploring the Chateau and riding around the gardens on a golf cart. It was definitely worth the trip from Paris and in summertime many locals visit the grounds to picnic. The sun was setting just as we returned to the Chateau. It was so cold but we had to spend five minutes enjoying the view below. The gardens continue past the rectangle body of water.
A few places we missed was the Trianon Palaces Domaine De marie Antoinette and The Hamlet (a rustic retreat for Marie Antoinette.
The town of Versailles is 30 minutes southwest of Paris, take the RER C Train and disembark at the last stop Versailles or Rive Gauche. To exit the train station turn right out of the train station, then left at the first boulevard and walk 10 minutes until you reach the Chateau de Versailles, you will not miss it! The ticket office is to the left after entering the gates, makes sure you the head right first to check out the palace, we headed left and missed the right side of the palace :(.
The main palace including the Hall of Mirrors, the king and queen living quarters and other cool stuff is 15 €
The Trianon Palaces and Domaine de Marie Antoinette is 10 €.
The Gardens are free in winter
The Golf Cart hire is 30 € per hour
A free audio guide included with the admission price is jam packed with information to the Chateau.
Rick Steves Book – this was a great guide that I carried around Paris. Highly recommended.
Photography allowed by no flash inside
Lastly a video produced by Fashion House Dior
Map of The Palace of Versailles
Latona fountain and the Grand Canal in the background