A visit to Paris is never complete without a visit to Versailles as well. Mindful of the crowds, we made the palace our first stop on our first full day in France. After a little hassle buying our train tickets (coin-only vending machines are so not our friends) and figuring out which train would get us there, we boarded an early train that arrived just as the château was opening for the day.
As we approached the gates, we could see the long queues for the security check and I walked very quickly to the ticket hall knowing we’d have a long wait ahead of us. There were signs everywhere cautioning the presence of pickpockets and sure enough, there was a commotion at the head of the line that involved a thief, an Asian tour group and a fight. Thankfully the guards came quickly though the line was stalled as they sorted things out.
There were plenty of people wandering inside the Palace by the time we made it inside. It was a slow moving procession at first but we squeezed through the larger groups and there was a bit more breathing room once we got past the Royal Chapel. Versailles is a lot like other grand palaces open to the public; it reminded me a lot of Schönbrunn Palace, where we just walked from room to room admiring all the grand furniture, richly decorated walls and large portraits of royalty hung in every room.
I think I liked the larger halls better since there was a lot more space and not as dimly lit as some of the royal apartments were. The Hall of Mirrors was spectacular, especially by daylight with the sun reflecting off all the mirrored panels, gilded decorations and on the sparkling chandeliers. I also liked The Battles Gallery, not only for the grand paintings of famous battles involving France but also for the beautiful glass ceiling above our heads.
We exited the palace from the back which led to the great gardens that formed Louis XIV’s backyard. The grounds are huge, spreading out literally as far as the eye could see. Sculptured lawns, broad allées and plenty of water features to catch one’s eye. The most prominent thing to see from the steps of the palace is the Grand Canal as it stretched further and further back. At the end closest to the palace, rowboats are docked along the side, available as rentals to traverse the canal.
There are several admission tiers to the Palace of Versailles. P and I bought the Passport, which includes the main Palace as well as two smaller ones some distance away. A tram runs between all three palaces but it costs extra. We opted to just stroll through the gardens but the map does not reveal just how extensive the grounds really are when traveling on foot; in hindsight, the price of the tram would have been well worth the cost because we were exhausted by the time we reach the Grand and Petit Trianon.
Unfortunately for us, we had arrived too early. After the grueling hike to get there, we found out that both the Grand and Petit Trianon would not open until noon, which left many people (us included) wandering around the nearby gardens to kill time. I suppose that was a good thing after all since our sore feet deserved a much needed rest.
We ended up visiting the Petit Trianon first since it was slightly closer to where we sat waiting for the palaces to open. There was a lovely and tiny courtyard through which we passed to get into the Petit Trianon and once inside, we saw it was really petit, when compared with the main palace. It’s much more comparable to the large mansions of modern day.
Petite as it may be, there are some lovely and large (by modern standards) gardens around the Petit Trianon. Winding paths around the back run parallel to a small lake that eventually leads to a sculpture of Cupid in the Temple of Love in the English Garden. Taking another route would bring a visitor to the French Garden. The garden connects the Grand Trianon to the Petit Trianon and we were hoping to use it as shortcut but alas, it wasn’t opened that day.
We ended up retracing our steps from earlier that morning and entered the Grand Trianon by its main entrance. After seeing so many elaborate rooms, they nearly all looked the same after a point. There were fancy rooms, more paintings but also a lovely peristyle that connected the different wings and provided easy access to the gardens out back. We didn’t stroll through the grounds this time, having seen enough trees and landscaped shrubbery.
After five hours at Versailles, I think we covered about 85% of the entire estate. Our feet really were too tired to do any more walking; there were plenty of cobblestones in the courtyard and the grounds weren’t always level so we did walk uphill at some points. My only regret is that we skipped out on the Hamlet near the Petit Trianon. It would have been interesting to walk through but I do think it would have to be on another visit.