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“It was a garden before a castle, a feast before a garden, a night before a thousand suns. If you want to understand what Versailles, one must first walk through its gardens”
There is something about Versailles that always draws me in. When I first visited Paris, I wasn’t sold on the city. Something just didn’t click for me. Yes, I loved the buildings and the history and the food but Paris was just another city; there was nothing magical about it. Versailles, on the other hand, captured my heart. And I am not talking about the palace with its over the top decor and the hall of mirrors. I didn’t even visit the inside of the palace on my first visit. No, it was the gardens of Versailles that swept me away.
As I wander the gardens of Versailles there is something that brings me back to the past, to a romanticized time in my mind. Perhaps it was because I had spent WAAAYYY too much time watching “Marie Antoinette,” or perhaps it is because the first time I visited, the gardens were alive with classical music as the fountains danced joyfully in the air. I had escaped the modern world and stepped back into a world of elegance, wealth and beauty. There were issues during that time but one of the beauties of looking back on the past is the ability to romanticize it. That ability is my favorite part of the gardens of Versailles, the ability to step into a more romantic past and for an afternoon let the cares of modern life disappear against the backdrop of gilded fountains and classical music.
When we decided to visit Paris this July, I knew we had to spend an afternoon having a picnic at Versailles. It also offered us an opportunity to get out of the city and the searing heat that was incredibly oppressive that week. We arrived at the train station in the modern city with the thousands of others and set off to find a grocery store. All I had wanted to do since we mentioned Versailles was picnic on the grounds. Could there be a better afternoon than sipping champagne, eating quiche lorraine and watching the fountains of Versailles?
We picked up our baguet, chevre, cornichons, cherry tomatoes, and all the necessary supplies for a Parisian picnic from the bakery and market, not forgetting the bottle of champagne being chilled down with packets of frozen peas in lieu of ice and we were off to Versailles. As you head towards this imposing palace you can just imagine how it was in the past with people from all over France coming to pay their respects and feed their curiosity about the Sun King. Versailles was a stage and all the world was welcome to view its performance as long as they were dressed appropriately! Anyone was able to watch the King and Queen eat dinner, enjoy the gardens and explore the opulent halls of the palace.
The golden hue of the facade of Versailles burnished brightly under the hot July sun when we arrived navigating around the crowds waiting to head into the palace. At the entrance to the gardens we paid a nominal fee to enter (the gardens are usually free except when the have special events such as the Musical Fountains) and as you turn the corner the gardens are spread out in front of you.
You can wander the gardens for hours finding hidden little nooks and tiny water fountains at every turn. These niches were perfect for the courtiers to sneak off into and have a little fun. Today they are perfect for escaping the crowds and having a piece of Versailles to yourself. Our goal however, was the lawn just south of the Poseidon fountain which surrounded the lake. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic.
As we set up our picnic in a shady spot by the water we were surrounded by groups of locals and tourists alike who had come to enjoy the midsummer afternoon. We turned on some jazz and filled our classy paper coca cola cups with our champagne which had been chilled with the help of some frozen peas. We then settled back to enjoy the lovely afternoon and watch people take turns around the lake in the rowboats (especially the group of girls who spun in circles for about ten minutes).
After our delicious picnic we packed up and decided to wander the gardens. They were impeccable as always except for one thing. The fountains that were on ten minutes earlier suddenly shut off an hour early. Apparently there was something going on later that night which they needed to prepare for. While it wasn’t an ideal end to a day at Versailles, it was still a perfectly wonderful afternoon sipping champagne and dreaming of an age long gone.
If you have time to explore more while you are there, I would head to Petit Trianon, which was Marie Antoinette’s private chateau. The building is beautiful and less overwhelming than the Palace of Versailles. The gardens are also sublime there especially the gazebo and the small lake. In addition, if you really want to experience the opulence of Versailles plan your trip to Paris around June 27th as every June 27th there is a party held at Versailles in honor of the Sun King which is held from 11:30pm to sunrise. My friend, Camille, who we stayed with in Paris went and her photos of the event were just incredible! Everyone who attends is required to wear Baroque costumes and a mask. Who wouldn’t want to attend a masquerade ball at Versailles just once in their life? We will definitely be trying to attend at least once!
How to Get to Versailles
Versailles is relatively easy to reach from Paris. You need to take the RER, Paris’ city trains, to Versailles. You can catch the RER C from St. Michel, Musee de Orsay, and Invalides. Make sure that the train you catch is headed to Versailles-Rive Gauche as there are several trains with stops with Versailles in the name but only Rive Gauche will take you near the palace.
Have you ever been to Versailles? What are your thoughts on it and what is your favorite part?
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