Paris embraces art like nowhere else on earth – every artist travels 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 were 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 dessert 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. 😊
Versailles, what NOT to miss.
After walking through the gate of the palace, visitors are traveling through the universe because all the King’s Grand Apartments are named after classical deities in Greek Legends, from Salon d’Hercule, de l’Abondance, de Venus, de Diane, de Mars, de Mercure, d’Appollon, Cour de Marbre, to Chambre du Roi. Each of these Salons is decorated uniquely in different colors and materials that show magnificent craftsmanship and grandeur. The glittering Hall of Mirrors is probably the most famous room of Versailles. Overlooking the gardens, the hall sparkles with sunlight entering through the windows and reflecting off the mirrors; other important elements in the hallway are the crystal chandeliers and marvelous ceiling paintings that are designed to impress as if the striking light reflections from the ensemble of 300 mirror segments were not overwhelming enough. The hallway was the passage between the King’s and Queen’s apartments in the Grand Apartments. The latter part of the palace tour includes the Queen’s Grand Apartment, which contrasts the masculine king’s décor with a more feminine sensibility. The wall paintings and décor are filled with flowers and soft colors – a Marie-Antoinette touch.
Behind and Grand Apartments are the Private Apartments of King Louis XV and King Louis XVI. The rooms showcase the private life of the French Royal family.
I deeply enjoyed the gardens. Everywhere is pleasing the eye and there’s no better place to just sit on the lawn by the canal and enjoy a relaxing afternoon on a sunny day. The Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon, and Domaine de Marie-Antoinette are located on the other side of the garden. The garden is really huge, one way to travel through the gardens (apart from walking) is taking the mini-train. Since I didn’t fancy taking the train, there are bikes available for rent and I had a great time cycling through under the giant trees.
Apart from cycling, fountain looking, and lawn rolling… row a boat in the grand canal, and imagine what it was like when the Kings sneaked off to their Rendez-vous with their mistresses through the canals.