Why I Can’t Wait to Give Versailles a Second Chance

Is there a traveler alive who has not heard of Versailles? The word alone conjures up images of opulent feasts and parties, a gathering place for French nobility since its became the seat of the French monarchy in 1682. Originally the hunting lodge of King Louis XVII, the chateau is now a museum of French history and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

It was not the art collections which lured Dan and I to Versailles on a rainy spring day, however. Like so many visitors before us, we came to get a taste of life at court in 17th-19th century France. What was it like to walk and even live in such a grand and beautiful building, with handmaidens to cater to your every need?

What was life like behind these gates?

I’m sorry to say, I still don’t really know the answer to that question. With dinner reservations in Paris that evening, we had set aside about six hours to visit the estate during the day. Thanks to a frustrating experience at the RER C station that morning in Paris, involving multiple cancelled trains and very little communication, we wound up trying to condense the massive chateau and grounds into a four hour visit. And here we made mistake number one: we did not pick up an audio guide. With so little time and so much to see, an audio guide seemed like it would just slow us down. We worried that we would spend too much time in each room, trying to absorb as much information as possible, and wind up running to catch the train without ever stepping foot in the gardens. It didn’t mesh well with our goal of taking it easy and enjoying the moments as they came.

Looking idyllic. We definitely did not want to miss out on the gardens!

Of course, Versailles was not the relaxing and informative getaway we expected. As one of the top day trip destinations from Paris, the chateau was packed with people, some trailing after tour guides, some holding audio guides up to their ears. Since we had foolishly opted to skip any form of guidance, we passed through the stunning rooms of the chateau without fully understanding what we were looking at. This combined with the overwhelming mass of tourists with cameras at the ready, and putting myself in the shoes of French nobility became near-impossible.

That’s not to say that we disliked Versailles, of course. I might not have known the significance of every single piece of art and architecture, but the chateau was stunning nonetheless. (I obtained most of my information after returning home, on the mind-blowingly detailed official website of Versailles.) We fell in love with the style and incredible detailing of the rooms, and especially loved our brief time exploring the grounds. Just look at this courtyard!

The stunning Marble Courtyard at Versailles

Called the Marble Courtyard, this is the original courtyard of the palace, and one of the first places we visited after gaining access to the chateau. I absolutely love this black and white tiled floor, its surface glassy in the early afternoon rain. Clearly, we spent more time than was necessary here, indulging my need to photograph every little detail.

Looking back out toward the famous golden gates of the chateau. Isn’t this area gorgeous?
A trio of gilded gates in the Marble Courtyard
Enjoying the cool spring air before diving into our explorations of the chateau’s many rooms
I just loved the endless windows, golden details, and overall color scheme of the courtyard.

Of course, we couldn’t linger too long. This courtyard, while beautiful, was a speck on the map when compared with the chateau and grounds, and we had plenty of ground still to cover.

If you’d like to follow along, head on over to the official Versailles website and click through their highly interactive map.

The “1792” Room pays tribute to the wars and figureheads of French military history.

Before we got too deep inside the chateau, Dan and I decided to grab a light lunch at Angelina. I’d heard about the luxury tearoom and patisserie long before setting foot in France. With no time to visit the flagship boutique in Paris, finding a location here at Versailles was a lucky twist of fate. As much as we would have loved to linger over coffee and pastries in the main tearoom, time was of the essence, and we stuck to the quick service cafe across the hall. After so many long, luxurious meals while abroad, it felt almost sacrilegious to enjoy this one in a span of twenty minutes.

Two sandwiches, two costly and delicious hot chocolates, and Angelina’s signature pastry, the Mont Blanc.

With so many gorgeous pastries on display, it was hard to choose just one! We settled on the signature Mont Blanc pastry, made with meringue, whipped cream, and chestnut cream vermicelli, as well as two cups of the famed Angelina hot chocolate, which tasted like rich liquid mousse. It was so rich, we probably could have shared one and been satisfied.

Bellies full, we returned downstairs and paid a visit to the Royal Chapel.

Beautiful Carved Statue and Ceiling Work at the Chateau de Versailles
I cannot get over the intricacy of these walls and ceilings. This statue reigns over the gorgeous staircase leading up to Angelina.
The staircase seen from the lower landing
This hall was roped off, but it made for a beautiful picture! I wonder what lies on the other end of the hall..

The French king was thought to be chosen by God, and would serve as his right hand on earth. We were not allowed inside the chapel itself, but the ceiling frescoes and overall ornamentation blew me away.

These beautiful white and gold doors were all over the chateau, but they never seemed to get old. This massive set of doors is just outside the entry to the Royal Chapel.
This is as close as we got to the chapel interior.

And this is where things start to get murky. I have so many beautiful photos to share, and no real idea of what those photos contain. Pretty doors, marbled walls, insanely beautiful paintings…but where? What room? Which artist? We shuffled along with the crowd, stopping frequently to admire the art, the chandeliers, the gilded doors and ceilings…wondering the whole time if we were missing something major. To add insult to injury, I learned after we arrived home in the States that the audio guides are completely free. Even with our limited time frame, it couldn’t have hurt to pick one up and use it from time to time.

It took a little bit of digging around the Versailles website to identify the rooms featured here, which gave us our first real taste of the splendor of Versailles. It turns out that the next place we visited was the King’s Grand Apartment. This series of salons was where the King conducted all official acts. Styled to mimic lavish Italian palaces, all but one salon was named after a Roman god, and featured artwork and more depicting said god.

The Hercules Salon

Feast in the House of Simon, Paolo Veronese
Apotheosis of Hercules, Francois le Moyne
Pretty ceiling details abound in these gorgeous salons.

The Abundance Salon

This is where refreshments were served during evening soirees held by the French monarchy. Believe it or not, the salon did not get its name from the endless amounts of liquor that flowed here.
Rather, it was named for the deities represented on its ceiling: Magnamity, Magnificence and the Genius of Art.

The Venus Salon

The salon is decorated in red, white and green, and features several marble statues.
A longing glance at the gardens outside the window. I was ready to get away from the crowds and down into the beautiful gardens!

The Diana Salon

If you took a peek at the thousands of photos on my camera, you would find dozens of these white and gold doors littered around the chateau. No shame.
Again with the gorgeous corner details! As impressive as the rooms were, overall it was the attention to smaller details that really wowed me.
I’d love to peek behind this door when the monarchy still lived and partied at Versailles!

The Apollo Salon

Can you believe this ceiling? Imagine how long it took to complete just the ceiling of this massive room.
Apollo in the Chariot of the Sun accompanied by the Seaons, Charles de la Fosse

The Mars Salon

The Mercury Salon

A portrait in the Mercury Salon, which functioned as a for-show bedchamber. The room was rarely actually used for sleeping, however. On most days, it held a number of gaming tables and was used primarily for entertainment purposes.

Still with me? Maybe you got a hint of what it was like to walk around the salons. So many beautiful things to see, and yet it’s all rather exhausting. But wait, I left out the best part!

Alllll the beautiful people you’ll have to squeeze around if you ever visit Versailles!

Yep, it’s all in the camera angles. Versailles was packed, and it wasn’t even peak season yet! Still, it was worth it to see all these beautiful and even iconic rooms.

I’m sure you all recognize this room…
Yep, it’s the famous Hall of Mirrors!
I love all the natural light that flows in through the windows and bounces off the mirrored wall. Not to mention, all those gorgeous chandeliers! Also, I assure you this room was crowded as well. I waited a couple of minutes for this specific spot to clear out a bit before taking the shot!
Compared with the over-the-top decor of the previous rooms, this white and gold paneled room seems relatively plain. I love its simplicity.
Even the doorways are paneled! This simple room, believe it or not, was the dressing room of Louis XIV.
The King’s Chamber, where King Louis XIV slept and performed the rising and retiring ceremonies each day.
A glance out the window reveals a glimpse of the Marble Courtyard.

With very little time left at Versailles, I was all too eager to finally exit the chateau (having seen less than half of it) and set out to explore the grounds. Being out in the chilly spring air, away from the sea of tourists and able to breathe once more, I felt my mood begin to lift. It’s good to know that no matter where I am in the world, nature will always be a respite from the rest of the world.

Manicured Hedges and Perfectly Sculpted Lawns at the Gardens of Versailles

The grounds and gardens are mind-blowingly huge, especially compared against the chateau we had just spent so much time exploring.

Just a glimpse of the massive gardens.
There are over fifty fountains hidden throughout the grounds…
…and dozens if not hundreds of statues to line the walkways.

Did I mention the gardens cover 1,976 acres?

For those with little time, or just little will to walk, there are several methods of transportation available. You can rent a single or tandem bike, rent a golf cart, or pay to hop on a mini train. With just a couple of hours to go before we had to catch our train back into Paris, Dan and decided to take advantage of the bike rentals. I was thrilled to rent a tandem bike, thinking only of how romantic it would be to ride “a bicycle built for two” in France with my future husband.

Dan with our *ultra-romantic* tandem bike…

WRONG. So very wrong. Being on the back of that bike was terrifying, for reasons I can’t fully explain. I couldn’t pedal without slamming my knees into the handlebars, but if I let my feet dangle freely, I ran the risk of getting scraped up by the pedals, moving of Dan’s volition. For the first time in years, I was 100% not in control. And instead of feeling free and happy, I was completely paralyzed by fear.  I kept screaming at Dan to stop, wanting only to return the infernal thing and walk to the Petit Trianon, and he thought I was joking! Probably because this full-on panic attack came complete with hysterical laughter (trying to convince myself it wasn’t so bad) pierced with sobs. I knew I was being ridiculous, and that made the whole ordeal even more embarrassing. I don’t know what my problem was, but finally Dan realized I wasn’t kidding around, and I jumped right off the bike. I wasted a good twenty minutes refusing to get back on, and in the end, I walked while Dan went ahead to park the bike all by himself. Poor guy.

With the offending bike…

As a result of my humiliating and totally inexplicable episode, we only had half an hour to spend at the Petit Trianon. Way to go, Beth.

Feeling much better now that I’m back on two feet! Dan did a great job cheering me up after the horrifying bike debacle.
The Temple of Love on Marie-Antoinette’s estate.
Le Petit Trianon

After the grandeur of the chateau, the Petit Trianon was surprisingly modest. There were a couple of well-appointed rooms, with lavish curtains, comfortable sitting chairs, and plenty of art on the walls.

Plenty of room to entertain the Queen and her closest friends
The sitting area, while beautifully decorated, is modest when compared to the grand chateau.
I adored this entry staircase! It’s simple yet sophisticated, with a royal touch of gold. Just my style!
This hilarious and creepy face adorns the grand staircase.
The Queen’s Apartments

For the most part, however, the rooms were small and bare, almost cave-like in their relative simplicity. It was interesting to learn that the downstairs kitchen was not actually used to prepare and cook food. The food was made at the chateau and delivered to the tiny home, where it was rewarmed for the Queen.

Dan setting off down one of the home’s cave-like passages.
The warming kitchen.

After the Petit Trianon, it was back to the dreaded bike. Dan convinced me to get back on, close my eyes, and let him pedal us back to the rental station. And wouldn’t you know, it turned out just fine.

Visiting Versailles was incredibly draining, at some times wonderful, and at others frustrating beyond belief. That being said, we would go back in a heartbeat! I’m curious to see the rest of the chateau, with a guide this time, and especially to spend hours wandering the rest of the gardens.

We were happy to have visited…
…and happy to be leaving!

We snapped a few more photos on our way out, then we hopped a train to Paris, where we had a special dinner waiting for us. I’ll write more about that in an upcoming post, but if you want a peek at our dinner plans, check out my post on Paris: Day Three.

In the meantime, please feel free to comment below! I think we could have “done” Versailles much better, and I’m curious to know what others thought of their experience. Was it too commercialized? Too crowded? The best experience of your life? Tell me all about it!

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