Think about the French Monarchy, opulence off the scale and the (fabulous) Marie Antoinette and inevitably you’ll come to the Palace of Versailles.
The history of the Palace is incredibly complicated. The royal family were forced to leave Versailles (which at the time was a country village) for Paris in 1789 (during the French Revolution), this began a period of instability for Versailles as although it had been declared a museum, it was stripped of its wealth and used as everything from an art gallery to a hospital. In 1892 France started to take the restoration of Versailles much more seriously and by 1952 a huge conservation and restoration project began, tasked with returning Versailles to its former glory.
Today, the Palace of Versailles hosts various political functions, but it’s main purpose is as a MAJOR tourist attraction.
It has been on my list of place to visit for a while now and with October fast approaching I wanted to experience the renowned gardens in all their glory before the sunshine faded.
So, what can I say about my visit to the Palace of Versailles; It is huge, everywhere you look there is gold and crystal chandeliers, the views from the palace across the gardens are extraordinarily beautiful and it is bursting at the seams with people.
Like the Vatican Museum, we were herded about the palace like cattle, which, is really not something that I enjoy. That said, it is worth being squashed to be able to see the incredible state rooms and Hall of Mirrors. Every corner you turn there is something to wonder at, usually something sparkly and hanging from the ceiling.
That many people shuffling around (and of course the insufferable tours blocking every bloody doorway) turned the whole place into a pressure cooker, which we escaped by heading downstairs to the much calmer cafe area.
Bypassing Angelina for the cooler Grand Cafe d’Orleans, I love how they have turned the servants quarters into seating areas, which offers a unique opportunity to see the contrast between how the monarchy lived and the ‘below stairs’ staff areas. These areas were still grand, but in a very simple way, it reminded me a little of the modern trend for minimalist decor.
We grabbed a quick lunch smoked salmon bagel for me and a sandwich for Philip as well as a couple of drinks, which came to a not too eye-watering (given where we were) €18.10. The food was lovely, but if you can, I would suggest taking a picnic with you and either eating it in the beautiful gardens, or if you aren’t lucky with the weather, back in your car.
The gardens are beautiful and massive. The manicured lawns, perfect hedges and stunning fountains are made even more impressive by the tinkly classical music that seems to follow you around as you explore. There are secret nooks and crannies all over the place, which are ideal for taking a load off for a for minutes and imagining all the people who must have strolled around the grounds of the palace over the last 400 years.
The garden closed at 5.30, but we were back at 8pm, ready for the Musical Fountain Show. It was incredible watching the sun set from the garden, then all of the fountains sprang to life, spurting out water in time to the music. The lights soon followed, a fantastic display, that really made the entire thing magical. Plus the Palace is even more amazing at night.
Tips for you visit:
// Check out the Palace of Versailles Website for event dates and opening times, which change throughout the year
// Take a picnic with you to enjoy on the grounds
// Be prepared for airport style security as you go into the palace
// If you’re attending the Musical Fountain Show, make sure you take a torch with you
// The palace gets very busy, it is best to arrive either as soon as it opens, or three hours before it closes