Friday, October 18, 2013

A day with Marie Antoinette

Château de Versailles and gardens

Versailles is only a train ride from Paris and there is so much to explore in this magnificent sixteenth century château with its adjacent park. Just head out on your own and forget the bus tours that leave you feeling like you are part of a herd. 

There are two ways to accomplish this excursion. There are private tours available for a behind the scenes look which is a totally awesome experience or you can choose to enjoy a full day of exploring the château and grounds on your own. One can also decide to combine the two which is what I opted for. 

As with most journeys a bit of preparation is encouraged. 

If you have the luxury of planning your visit in advance join La Société des amis de Versailles so you won’t wait in lines. Simply go to their website and apply for a basic membership (60 euros) which will give you access to the Château at any time during the span of one year. Sometimes it is good to indulge oneself and bypassing long lines is a big plus. (

The best maps that I found can be downloaded from Rick Steves internet site on visiting Versailles. The maps are simple and are the perfect guide for a days adventure. So be prepared and download these for your reference. (

Now to get there! The RER (Rèseau Express Regional) is a commuter rail service connecting Paris and its suburbs. Take ligne RER C in the direction of Versailles Château - Rive Gauche. You can leave from Gare d’Austerlitz. Saint-Michel Notre Dame, Musée d’Orsay, Invalides, Pont de l’Alma or Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel. About 40 minutes later, while sitting in a comfortable seat, you are quietly and gently whisked to Versailles. (There are only two tricky things to remember. Buy a return ticket so you need not wait in line for the return voyage and always keep your ticket since you will need it to enter and to leave the train station.)
looking at the garden

So here you are in Versailles with maps in hand. I suggest that you start with the Château entering through the State Apartments from the King’s Wing and simply continue walking. You will pass through the grand Hall of Mirrors where you can marvel at the seventeen arched mirrors that match the 17 adjacent windows. The Hall is 250 feet long with 24 gilded candelabra, busts of Roman emperors, statues and ornate decorations, gilt and paintings throughout. On an historical note, the Treaty of Versailles was signed here ending World War I.

The next impressive area is the Hall of Battles filled with murals of the great battles of France. Not to be missed are the Queen’s Grand Apartment and the King’s Grand Apartment. Other memorable rooms are the Nobles Salon, the Guard room and the recently and beautifully renovated Mercury Salon and the Antechamber of the Grand Couvert.

When you exit the Palace head for the expanse of gardens, pathways, fountains and statues. When the weather is beautiful enjoy the walk. If you are feeling a bit fatigued don’t hesitate to take the small train or rent one of the little golf carts to get from one location to another.
Hall of Mirrors

The guide books do not always favor the Petit Trianon and the Hamlet but these are my favorite destinations. The Petit Trianon was build in 1760 by order of Louis XV for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, who died before its completion. Madame du Barry succeeded Madame de Pompadour as the King’s mistress and she took up residence for just a short time. However, it is Queen Marie Antoinette who will always be associated with the Petit Trianon and remembered as its primary resident. The petit château was given along with the surrounding park to Marie Antoinette by her husband, Louis XVI, when the Queen was 19 years old. This provided the Queen the perfect escape from the court, its’ intrigues, formalities and royal responsibilities. But, the most important thing that the Queen gained from this retreat was privacy. I find the small scale of the Petit Trianon and its simplicity absolutely charming.

The Hameau de la Reine (or Hamlet) is a rustic retreat in the park of the Château de Versailles. It was built for Marie Antoinette in 1783 and served as a private meeting place for the Queen and her very closest of friends. It included a model farm and a series of gardens to give the illusion of being deep in the country rather than a short distance from Versailles.

Queen's favorite colors
The Grand Trianon was built by Louis XIV as a retreat for the King and his mistress as well as a place to invite guests for an informal atmosphere. Of historical interest, Napoleon lived at Trianon with his second wife, Marie Louise of Austria.

Don’t think that we forgot about lunch. A full day of exploring Versailles had to include a nice glass of wine and a tasty meal. We opted to try Le Parc du Château de Versailles, 78000 Versailles in front of the Grand Canal and about midway between Versailles and the Petit Trianon. After being fortified with a perfect meal and lovely glass of white wine, we were ready to set off for the best part of the day.

unlocking the apartment
There are a number of options available to obtain a behind the scenes view of Versailles not offered to the general public. Our tour was organized by Chasing French History ( and we were assigned one of the guides on staff at Versailles.

Our guide received the keys to the locked apartment along with a security guard who followed us on our hour and a half exploration of the Queen’s apartments. The apartment rooms were surprisingly small, rather cozy and reflected the Queen’s love of green and pink. We learned that after the revolution most items in the Château were sold at an auction that continued for a full year. It then took a full thirty years of work to restore the Queen’s Bedchamber alone and the work continues to both restore, maintain and acquire those items that were auctioned.
Marie Antoinette

Our private tour enabled us to explore the hallway connecting the King and the Queen’s Bedchamber allowing for a middle of the night rendez-vous. As we exited a room or area it was relocked and then we would be allowed into the next private area. There was the royal library, the Queen’s Private Cabinets, her bath and dressing rooms and the Queen’s Antichamber. Another historical fact that we found amusing is that the only other person to use the Queen’s toilet was Chancellor Angela Merkel.

It is truly remarkable that so much has been restored, donated and purchased back. But what is most amazing is to be able to enter through the hidden doors and passages. At several locations we become part of the display that the tourists were looking at and photographing. Our day at Versailles was special and our private tour was a truly memorable experience. 

I hope that you will soon be signing up for your day to visit Marie Antoinette.

library in the Queen's apartment
notice the Queen's initials !

Official Website for Versailles in English :
Website for Amis de Château de Versailles :
Website for Chasing French History :
Website for Restaurant at Versailles :
Download an official APP on your phone to explore the Château :

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