Because Big Bus didn’t open until 9:30am but most museums opened at 9am I decided rather than start my trip off at the Louvre like I had planned I would go to the Palace of Versailles. (This was also done because you can’t just go to the Louvre, you have to make an online reservation, even if you have a Museum Pass.)
Generally from downtown Paris to The Palace of Versailles it would take 1 hour and 2 minutes on the RER C line. However due to the strike this option was not available. So I took a bus to Gare Montparnasse and booked a ticket to Viroflay, only to realize at my transfer in Viroflay that my map had picked the wrong Versailles, at which point I took the bus. It probably took me over 2 hours just to get there. Due to the strikes and the rotation of which lines were running and which weren’t I highly suggest double checking everything on Citymapper. Again I hope everything is resolved by the time this post goes up, but just in case Citymapper gave me multiple routes while Google maps gave me one that I couldn’t use. Oh also, the Paris Pass public transit card didn’t go to Versailles. The Palace of Versailles is in zone 4. Which meant I had to keep buying public transit passes and wasting money when I got lost.
The first thing I did at the Palace was go through security and open my bag and show them what was in it before following people up to the gates and taking pictures. Beyond this was check-in where I scanned and started the 48 hour clock on my museum pass and was told that the palace of Versailles has a free audio guide. I highly suggest getting it if you’re not on a tour. Usually when I’m somewhere I don’t bother with audio guides but if you’ve got the time the audio guide is not only free but informative. And since I was by myself it was really nice to be able to pop into a room, look around while listening and duck to the next room, bypassing large tour groups. I’m sure the tour groups were getting a lot of unique information and any questions they had answered but I was able to get a tour and take pictures and take on the palace of Versailles at my own pace.
The palace was huge. And I was running on a pain aux chocolat, noisette, and a partially crushed croissant I’d bought at a bakery I got in Viroflay to make sure I had enough change for the bus. I stopped for a snack at the Versaille Angelina around 2pm. They had two options a side for snacks and a side for meals. Because I wanted to keep moving I decided to go down the snack route. I got a baguette sandwich and Angelina’s famous chocolat chaud. (A super thick hot chocolate). I will do an individual post on the chain Angelina’s later.
Note that there is not a lot of seating available in the snack section of the Versailles Angelina. If you are a large group and don’t see any available I suggest maybe looking at the menu again and trying the restaurant. When I arrived I was able to grab a seat by myself but in the interval it took me to start my sandwich the place filled up including all the available spaces at my own table.
There were two parts to Versailles that I managed to visit. Pre-Angelina I explored the palace itself. Post-Angelina I explored the gardens. It took most of the day. If I had gotten their earlier, maybe not, it is possible to make Versailles a half day trip, but to give yourself time and to not stress yourself out because of how immense the grounds and everything is I highly suggest giving yourself a full day. That way if you end early then hooray you have surprise time to do something else. And if you don’t, then you prepared yourself for that.
The Palace of Versailles was home to the French monarchy for about 107 years. It lasted from Louis XIII to the French Revolution. Before, the area of Versailles, was a favored hunting ground of the previous kings, until once upon a time one decided to buy land in the area and build a small lodge. Later, after a barely avoided coup, a king decided to make it into a château. After awhile as kings came and passed Louis the XIV expanded it and hired André Le Nôtre to create the immense gardens.
The palace is symmetrical with one wing belong to the king and the other to the queen. The king’s area, much to my surprise was decked out with Roman gods. I had forgotten that Apollo was one of the few gods to not get a name change when adopted by the Romans and kept getting thrown when the audio guide would jump from saying “this room is designed with paintings of Apollo, while the next room had paintings of Mars” (Greek: Ares).
Louis XIV viewed Apollo as his own personal symbol, believing himself to be similar in many ways to the sun god. Each room was intensely decorated. Even if a lot of the actual decor from the time didn’t survive due to various wars and the revolution. The stunning art that remains though, the intricate sculptures and paintings that line every available part of the ceilings and most of the walls is due to Petite Academie, a collection of artists that the royal painter, Charles Le Brun was in charge of. The sculptures in the gardens and on the fountains are also due to him, which means I have him to thank for laughing for a good ten minutes outside one fountain in the garden.
In 1682 it became the kings primary residence and much later after some various changes and wars in 1783 it became the site of the Paris peace treaties where the U.K. signed that it recognized the United States independence. After the French Revolution and the fall of the monarchy, everything within the palace was either sent to the Louvre or sold at auction. All symbols of the monarchy (the fleur de lis) was removed (i.e. chiseled off the walls) and in 1793 it was opened for tours, while other rooms were used as a small art museum, storage and an art school.
Several French leaders thought about living in Versailles but the cost to repair the palace was generally too great to actually accomplish the goal. The 1830 French Revolution brought about a different idea. Louis-Philippe began in 1833 to change Versailles into a French Museum. He created the Galerie des Batailles (Hall of Battles) which is an immense hallway my audio guide called the Hall of Princess. Each side of the wall is filled with enormous paintings showcasing the important battles of France. It’s like a walk through history occasionally peppered with busts and statues of important people. Since then various governments have used it as a base and the current French government meets there for special occasions. It’s seen lots of treaties signed, from the aforementioned one that granted the United States independence to the treaty of Versailles which ended World War I. Many of these are signed in the stunning hall of mirrors.
The hall of mirrors is filled with beautiful chandeliers with one wall of mirrors that reflect the light and show the gardens in their beautiful glory. But also, if you go, a thing I learned early on in France, is to always look up. The ceilings are absolutely intricate and stunning with paintings and sculptures on every available inch. I have never had such a strong desire to just lay on the floor for awhile. But I figured people would look at me weird or security would yell at me so I didn’t.
After wandering the immense palace I headed out to the garden. The gardens are immense. I went with a goal to make it down to the Apollo fountain and back, which seemed like an easy goal but the large groves of trees which had a spooky air to them in winter was very alluring.
The garden is open earlier than the palace, opening at 8am, so one could technically visit the garden first then go back to the palace which is probably a very smart idea. The first thing you run into when you enter the garden is Parterre d’Eau which are two reflective pools surrounded by little maze like grasses with various statues. Down a set of stairs was my favorite fountain.
It’s called the Latona Fountain. There is no audio guide for the gardens which means you don’t get any of the history or stories for what all of the main sights are. Actually make sure you drop off the audio guide before you leave the buildings because they set off an alarm if you leave the building with it.
I found the Latona Fountain funny because from my angle I could see a bunch of regular looking people with their arms outreached above them and then one super buff frog man also reaching above him. Since I didn’t know any history. I just couldn’t stop laughing at the one buff frog man in a relatively normal fountain. But it turns out it’s based off a story, the Metamorphosis of Ovid. (Not to be confused with Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis) Apparently in this story the peasants of Lycia insulted Latona (Leto) and it angered Jupiter (Zeus) and so he turned them all into frogs. It seems it really depends on the angle in which you look at it. All six humanoid figures are suppose to be mid transformation into frogs. Just the one I saw was much more frog-like then the others and I found it delightful and confusing.
About halfway through the gardens is the Grand Canal. I didn’t make it that far, utterly exhausted by the point I made it to the Chariot of Apollo which is a large fountain right before the Grand Canal.
Among the tree groves there are various other fountains and spots to visit. However due to winter a lot of them were covered and locked up. Which was a pain since they were such a hike from one another.
I really think during other seasons the gardens must be absolutely stunning. But wear proper shoes and prepare for a lot of walking.
By the time I left the gardens I was in need of another break. Within the gardens themselves there are various places to take a break as well as places to buy a snack but I wanted, at that point, to be out of the gardens and on my way out. So I stopped only because it was on the way out, at Ore, which was having tea time.
Originally I thought stopping for high tea sounded wonderful. Though really all I wanted was water. I’d finished off my water bottle early on in the palace and hadn’t found anywhere to refill it or buy a new one.
The high tea being offered was called La Reine Marie’s Tea Time €35. It seemed like it included too much. And I wasn’t really willing to spend €35. I wanted something smaller and found Marie-Antoinette’s delight with a section called Versailles. I assumed, incorrectly that everything under the header for Versailles was a tea set. It was not. Each item below that header was €10. What I should’ve got was a sorbet or ice cream which was €7. But instead I decided to just pick something random and went with the Versailles delight and a green mint tea.
The Versailles delight was flaky with a thick sweet filling that had a slight nutty taste. I would’ve expected it to be mind blowing seeing as I had gotten flaky pastries about 30 minutes away for about €1.50. But I also was still within the grounds of Versailles which allows people to hike up the prices, and it was a seemingly high class restaurant. (or do all restaurants in France feel high class????)
The pastry really was good. I just am super glad it fell apart so easily and that I was cutting myself small bite size pieces because there was what seemed like a fancy pastry weight in it. Also shortly after digging the pastry weight out and triple checking it wasn’t some fancy prize that I could eat without breaking my teeth I found a hair. Kinda ruined the lavish vibe the restaurant was giving off. That coupled with having to ask multiple times for water, the whole reason I went in in the first place.
There is a lot to Versailles, and I know I didn’t see all of it. I don’t think I even scratched half of the grounds. It’s busiest from April 1st through October 31st. During which time the palace itself is open from Tuesday through Sunday from 9am until 6:30pm and is closed on Mondays. During the off season from November 1st through March 31st the palace is open from 9am to 5:30pm.
The gardens are open every day from 8am to 8:30pm (busy season) and 8am until 6pm (slow/off season). The park, which I don’t think I saw opens at 7am during busy season and also closes at 8:30pm. During slow/off season the park has the same hours as the garden.
Another area I didn’t get to see was the Marie Antoinette Estate and Palace of Trianon. These, unlike the gardens, but like the main building are closed on Mondays. They also don’t open until much later at noon for both busy and slow times of year. During the busy time they close at 6:30pm. During the slow time of year they close at 5:30pm.
Other things to note is that there is a high chance that they’ll stop letting you in up to an hour before they close so make sure you are there early. It’s so big that I would try to make sure I got there at least several hours before closing.
There are also various fountain shows and performances, depending on the time of year. None were happening though while I visited.