We had watched the Versailles Netflix series last year and said we must go and visit when we were in France. It really tells the story of the opulence of the French court in that era and explains a little why Louis XIV felt the need to build this extravagant palace outside Paris. It was originally his father’s hunting lodge, which he expanded to a small chateaux. Louis XIV then supersized that to the 700 room, 2153 windowed, 800 hectare gargantuan between 1661 and 1715. It really is the epitome of the wealth divide in that era which ultimately led to the French Revolution in 1792 and the beheading of his grandson Luis XVI.
We set off early from Chablis this morning after Google maps reported a traffic accident on route. Thankfully after an easy drive on the main roads it had cleared before we got toward Versailles.
One missed turning and a u turn in the middle of Versailles made for a slightly stressful arrival. However we managed to get shaded parking and after another walk with the dogs we set off on the 10 min walk to the Palace. Sadly the initial impression was slightly impacted by scaffolding on one side of the building which is from a €400M Euro refurb project which was originally due to finish in 2020. We struggled to get the whole frontage of the building on one photo, it is that large. There is gold leaf edging around the central part of the building which houses the State Apartments and vast golden gates and rails ahead of that. It is really difficult to explain the level of grandeur. Opposite the building there is the former stable buildings and there is also another buildings in the garden, Grand Trianon built for the family to escape court, a home for his mistress and mother of 7 of his estimated 19+ children (6 with his wife though only 1 survived to adulthood). There was even later added a mock hamlet where Marie Antoinette (wife of his grandson Luis XVI) played at being a milkmaid.
We entered on our pre-booked time slot to visit the Palace. The free audio guide comes with the free app for the state rooms, though you would need a couple of days to listen to the whole set in full. We were content to just wonder through the main state apartments of the king and queens chambers where the elaborate etiquette of court which was created by Louis XIV were performed. The king and queen were individually awakened in their state bed chambers (the king also had a separate actual bedroom) in separate wings of the Palace attended by the privileged members of court. The separate procession then met in the 75m long Hall of Mirrors built to reflect gardens and the setting sun. Onward to the royal chapel for prayers, where the king sat above the crowds and the priest on a separate mezzanine level.
Our tour took us effectively along this itinerary. However despite the timed entrance blocks, it was very crowded. I understand this is one of the most visited sites in the world though, so probably to be expected. The individual state rooms were smaller than you imaged from the TV series. Though they were still tall and opulent with large windows, gold gilt and marble a plenty. It does remove some of the awe when there is so many people around.
I gather that the interior of the Palace was stripped of its interior furnishings during the Revolution. So who knows where all of those pieces are scurried away now across France, or perhaps they were destroyed. We headed out into the gardens in the afternoon, for the Tuesday afternoon Musical Fountain show. There are 50 fountains across the 800 hectare site. It is possible to hire golf buggies to get around the whole site, it is that big. We opted for the self guided tour with a map and routed our way around the key features. It was pretty hot wondering around and although we had hit a good shaded parking for the van, we did not want to leave the dogs too long.
There seemed to be a timing around when the fountains would be coordinated with the music which we did not quite fathom. Some seemed to be dancing in time and others not. Although the music was quite nice backdrop. The gardens were also mobbed with visitors, but at least they were much better spread out here. The gardens are immaculately maintained, which must take a small army.
After we had seen what we wanted to, we head back to the van to make the 30 minute drive to the only campsite in Paris in the Bois de Boulogne. We are set up to get the 15 min shuttle into the city tomorrow. Well, it would be rude not to drop in whilst we are in the area 🙂