I had never thought about having a bucket list. I often say, “If I had a bucket list I would…” Well, I think I am just about ready to admit that I actually do have a bucket list and may have always had one. Slowly but surely, I am making my way down the “nonexistent” bucket list and I recently just checked off something I had wanted to do for many years.
I lived in Paris for three years during my early 20’s and anytime family would come to visit, we would spend our time doing typical tourist activities. Although many years have passed and my memory is a bit foggy, I do remember how much I enjoyed visiting Versailles and seeing the palace along with Marie Antoinette’s chambers. When Sofia Coppola’s film adaptation of Marie Antoinette came out in in 2006, I remembered so much about my visit to Versailles and I began wanting to learn more about the history of France and this particular era. It’s funny how fashion does that to me…all you need to do is show me a beautiful movie about a glamorous Queen in fantastic outfits and I am ready to dive into history books. Since the movie was released, I have wanted to go back to Versailles and experience it as an adult as I knew I would be able to appreciate it’s glamour, grandeur and history on another level.
When I started to plan my recent trip to Paris, I knew I wanted spend an entire day exploring Versailles and its’ incredible grounds. What I didn’t know was how many tour options various companies offered…I am not one to join the masses (especially large tour groups). You wouldn’t normally find me in a tour group where the leader holds up a colored flag so you can spot them a mile away but guess what? If you can’t beat them, join them! The Palace of Versailles is too large to explore on your own so yes, I joined a cliché tour group because in this particular case it is the only way to truly learn and experience the magnificent palace and all its glory! There are many ways to experience Versailles…you can get there by train, Uber, Taxi or Tour bus. After researching all of these options, I decided my best bet was to put on a fanny pack become a full-on tourist. I was in it to win it! I boarded a 7:45am bus in the center of Paris and was at the Palace of Versailles by 9:00am. By 10:00am, I was walking through the incredible Hall of Mirrors imagining what life would have been like living in such a regal palace. If you truly want to experience the palace, a day trip with a guided tour is highly recommended. The bus picks you up from a central location in Paris and drops you back off just in time for dinner. I felt much better knowing I didn’t have to worry about how to find my way around the palace…everything was completely taken care of by the tour company. They guarantee a group of 10 people or less with a private guide, 4-course lunch, tour of the majority of the palace grounds and gardens.
Versailles is a short drive from Paris, only 12 miles but it takes about 45 minutes to an hour by car. All I could think about on our drive to Versailles was the fact that people used to travel via horse and buggy during Marie Antoinette’s era in the 1700’s. For those of you who are not too familiar with Versailles, I would love to fill you in on a bit of its rich history and culture.
The Palace of Versailles is one of the most magnificent royal chateaus in the world located in the Île-de-France region of France. Today, Versailles is a suburb of Paris but when it was built in the 1600’s, it was considered a country village. In 1607, Louis XIII visited Versailles for his first hunting trip and discovered the incredible forest and meadow that filled the area as well as an abundance of wild game. During this time, the palace did not yet exist; it was solely a place to enjoy hunting and escape the noise of Paris. In 1623, the King decided to build a hunting lodge or what I like to a call, a “weekend getaway” where he could spend time away from the city. In 1631, Louis XIII decided to expand and rebuilt the lodge, which became the basis of the Palace of Versailles we know today. Louis XIII’s successor, Louis XIV, had a great interest in Versailles and once he took reign, he settled in the royal hunting lodge at Versailles and spent the following decades expanding it into one of the largest and most grandeur palaces in the world. Prior to moving to Versailles, Louis XIV resided at the Louvre! I had no idea! This was such an interesting fact that I learned while visiting Versailles. I also learned that Louis XIV had a desire to establish a new center for the royal court and therefore decided to make Versailles the official establishment of the royal court in 1682. By moving the government and his court out of Paris and into Versailles, the King hoped to gain more control of the government while distancing himself from the population of Paris. During his reign, Louis VIX built four distinct buildings of the palace.
The first campaign (1664-1688) involved completing the chateau and magnificent gardens in order to accommodate 600 party guests due to the celebration of the “Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée” which is known as a prelude to the War of Devolution, which Louis waged against Spain.
The second building (1669-1672) campaign began due to the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the War of Devolution. This is the section of the palace that holds one of the most incredible constructions…the infamous Hall of Mirrors!
The third building campaign (1678-1682) began with the signing of the Treaty of Nijmegen, which ended the Dutch War. This is the time period in which the Palace of Versailles acquired much of the look it still has today. The landscaping and incredible gardens were close to being completed as well as the north and south wings.
The fourth and final building campaign (1688-1697) came soon after the defeat of the War of the League of Augsburg. This was Louis XIV final campaign at Versailles where he concentrated almost entirely on the royal chapel design. Once the chapel was completed in 1710, almost all construction in Versailles ceased and did not resume until during the reign of Louis XV almost twenty years later.
Exploring and learning about the Palace of Versailles was truly incredible. The robust grounds, vast interiors and infamous Hall of Mirrors were quite the site to see. The main Palace of Versailles defines luxury and is complete and utter perfection. There was no expense spared while building the incredible grounds. The attention to detail is truly outstanding, down to every square inch of the palace. The floors, walls and ceiling were hand painted using gold detailing while the floors were made of marble and the finest wood. As I made my way through the palace taking pictures, it was so hard to focus on just one thing because there was just too much to admire. The gardens were just as magnificent if not more magnificent than the main palace. You could get lost for days walking around the gardens as you felt as if you were walking through a maze of greenery filled with incredible sculptures and gold fountains. There were so many paths and hiding spots throughout the gardens and we were told that it was the most popular meeting spot for people to have secret affairs. While in the gardens, you can watch an extraordinary musical fountain show while taking in the beauty of the Chateau de Versailles gardens.
After walking through the incredible gardens, you can enjoy lunch at The Ore restaurant, which is located at the pavilion Dufour, Angelina, which a quaint restaurant that is accessed via the Royal Courtyard, or The Grand Café d’Orleans, which is located at the pavilion d’Orleans. This was my personal favorite place to eat, as it was an old carriage house that had been transformed into a beautiful countryside style restaurant located in the middle of the gardens. After enjoying lunch, we explored the Petit Trianon where Marie Antoinette would spend much of her time in order to escape the formality of court life. It was a place of leisure and ease where the Queen could enjoy some peace and quiet with her children away from the royal responsibilities that came along with being Queen. At Versailles, she was under constant pressure so the Petite Trianon was built in order to give Marie Antoinette exclusivity and required as little interaction between servants and guests as possible. I personally loved visiting the Petite Trianon as it had much more of a “homey” feel that the palace. The décor was softer and offered a more casual setting. After visiting the Trianon, we made our way to The Queen’s Hamlet, which was one of my favorite places to visit. This is a fairytale-like rustic retreat that was built for Marie Antoinette as her private escape. The architecture is incredible and unlike anything else you will see in Versailles; it is a complete interpretation of a rustic village adorned with meadows and greenery. It is said that Marie Antoinette used to spend most of her time in this area, taking strolls along the lake, clearing her mind from royal worries. The Queen’s Hamlet consists of twelve beautiful cottages, five of which where exclusively reserved for the Queen and her family. This was the Queens way for her children to experience a “normal” childhood away from life at the castle. This is one area that recently opened to the public and I am so happy I had the opportunity to see it firsthand.
After experiencing Versailles as an adult, I can now truly appreciate the sheer beauty of the palace and the history behind it. It is so much more than a pretty palace…it is an unimaginable yet incredible way of living that occurred in a time period where knights in shining armor truly existed. It is amazing that places like Versailles still exist and it is even more amazing to learn about the rich history that took place in the Palace. If you are ever in Paris, make sure to take the quick trip over to visit Versailles, as it is truly one of the most luxurious places in the world that still stands.