A Trip to Versailles
Whether you’re visiting Paris for a week, a month or a year, making time for a trip to Versailles should be a “must” on your to-do list. This breathtaking palace housed the royal family until the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, and is a testament to opulent living (it’s like a 17th century version of Rich Kids of Instagram, but with less Louis Vuitton and more Louis XIV).
The main Château (located about a 5 minute walk from the train station) is home to countless sculptures, paintings and other works of art. Highlights include the Hall of Mirrors, where the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end World War I, and the Queen’s Grand Apartment, last occupied by Marie Antoinette. Room after room you’ll be greeted by exquisite marble, stone, and gold leaf designs that took almost 50 years to construct. A labour of love indeed.
Outside the Château, the famous Gardens of Versailles unfold over 800 hectares. 200,000 trees and 50 fountains are set among the immaculately manicured grounds. During the summer months, classical music by Rousset is piped through speakers, offering a quintessentially French backdrop to the stunning sights (and making me feel slightly less enthusiastic about my Bellwoods outings with Daft Punk blasting on my iPod).
Beyond the Gardens you’ll find the Grand and Petit Trianons, the latter of which was Marie Antoinette’s personal retreat (although judging by the pictures below, my mom also feels totally at home there).
What’s On Now
Currently, the Palace is hosting a major exhibition of contemporary art from Italian artist, Giuseppe Penone. Penone Versailles features large-scale sculptures inspired by trees and nature – organic forms that seem in striking contrast with the perfectionist order of Versailles. The exhibit runs until October 31st, so hurry if you want to see this spectacular display.
For those with more traditional tastes, The King’s Flowers is on at the Grand Trianon until September 29th. The exhibit features a mix of paintings, watercolours on vellum, and parterres, bringing to life the botanical brilliance that existed on site centuries ago.
How To Get There
Versailles is located about 20 kilometres southwest of Paris and is easily accessed via the RER train line. Take RER C (the yellow line) in the direction of Versailles Rive Gauche and get off at the final station – Versailles Rive Gauche. Make sure your train is headed to Versailles Rive Gauche and not Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (which will leave you at the other end of town). You can order your tickets online at the Château de Versailles website or buy them in person on the day of your visit.
Once you arrive, you will likely see a “helpful” tour guide directing you to a ticket booth with a red awning, directly across the street from the train station. On a typical day, this ticket booth has a very long line and will charge an extra 2€ or 3€ on top of the ticket prices as a service fee. If you haven’t purchased your tickets in advance, then skip this line, turn right out of the train station and walk along Avenue de l’Europe to the first street (Avenue de Paris). Turn left, and on your left, you will see a small ticket office that is the official Versailles Tourist Office at 2 bis Avenue de Paris. It’s usually line-up free and will charge regular fees for tickets. The Passport, which gives you access to the Château, the gardens, the Trianon Palaces and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate, is between 18€ and 25€, depending on the day of the week and time of year. Versailles is closed on Mondays and some French holidays.
For those who can’t make it to the palace in person, and are tempted to live vicariously through Sophia Coppola’s 2006 film, Marie Antoinette, I can only say this – I tried it, it failed, now let me eat cake.
For more information on Versailles, check out the official website. Bon voyage!