Paris embraces art like nowhere else on earth – every artist travel to Paris and they get inspired by the artistic atmosphere. There are numerous museums, music halls, opera houses, galleries, and art centers in the city, and it’s a paradise for art lovers just to explore the array of exhibitions, concerts, opera, live shows that take place all year round.
Last time when I was in town (again), I finally visited Versailles, the historic palace that is located merely 45 minutes away from the city center, and I found it was an art pilgrimage long overdue. I guessed I have been focusing so much on the city until I realized the exuberant aesthetics that the historic palace has to offer.
Why visit Versailles
Beauty. Versailles is a masterpiece of French Baroque architecture in the 17th century. The palace and gardens are the references of many other palaces across Europe, like the Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna, The Peterhof Palace in Saint Petersburg, and Herrenchiemsee in Munich. These palaces have all shown admirations of Versailles, yet these replicas still couldn’t quite capture the essence and grandeur of Versailles uniquely possess. It was not just about the architecture, but also the ambiance and originality that makes the site so special and unique.
The palace, the artifacts, the interior, and the chandeliers are simply exquisite and are mindfully displayed in each room. The gardens of Versailles is a celebration of art – the side of the pathways are lined with bushes and trees that are perfectly trimmed and pruned; and the courtyards are decorated with fountains, flowers, and sculptures.
History. Versailles is a place that witnesses the ups and downs of the country. Versailles became officially the seat of the government of the kingdom of France in 1682, and home of the French King Louis XIV. The “Sun King” (Le Roi Soleil) greatly augmented French influence in the world and made his kingdom one of the greatest power in Europe in his reign of more than 72 years.
Unfortunately, the later (and last) King of France Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette squandered the country’s wealth on hosting, not limited to masquerades and grand balls, but also gambling, operas, fireworks, and light shows…, which may be impressive at first, but later it led to a financial crisis and the French Revolution, and Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette was guillotined eventually during the French revolution.
Going to Versailles
I strongly recommend visitors to pre-order their tickets online before their visit because you would probably avoid a long queue (under the sun) as the palace is crowded all year round. The best time is to visit Versailles early in the morning (before the big tour groups arrive). If you are visiting Paris and are planning to visit a couple of museums and tourist spots in a few days, I suggest purchasing the Paris Museum Pass. The pass offers access to many museums in the city, and Versailles – it saves a lot of time lining up and running around for tickets everywhere you go.
Pre-order online, or call FNAC:
Versailles tourism website: www.versailles-tourisme.com
FNAC website: http://www.fnacspectacles.com
Paris Museum Pass website: http://en.parismuseumpass.com
SNCF website (Train tickets): https://www.transilien.com/en
Versailles, Step by Step
Versailles is simply huge and so it would probably be a whole day event. Remember to get a map upon entering the site, and visitors would typically start touring the palace before heading out to the gardens. There are audio guides in different languages available to give visitors a better understanding of the rooms. I have also found a couple of podcasts in iTunes (some need to pay) that gives a rather lively commentary to the entire route of the palace, and they have enriched my experience as I walked through the structure and gardens.
For an unconventional visit (mostly to avoid the crowd), it is possible to cover the gardens first; However, I found it make more sense to go through the palace before heading out to the gardens as if the gardens are a delicate desert after an exquisite French meal. Remember to check the schedule of the fountain show though (the show opens on the weekends in summer), you don’t want to miss it. 😊