Versailles, for me, is akin to the Magic Kingdom. There's a princess, a bit of a fairy tale, and a hell of a lot of gold and chandeliers. My inner history nerd has always found the Bourbons completely fascinating, and getting to make a return trip to their fabled playground and eventual gilded prison was, for me, one of the highlights of our trip!
We scheduled Versailles for the Sunday after our Friday arrival, which worked out perfectly to escape the worst of the jet lag. An easy 45 minute train ride from central Paris, we got to sleep in a bit too before our 10am tour! I would ALSO like to point out that that Sunday was the day that Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana of Cambridge graced the front cover of every newspaper ever, including this one, in French, bien sûr:
Damn right, I took a picture. And with that, let's leave the English royals behind and return to the French ones!
The sheer size and breadth of Versailles is opulent and intimidating on a level completely foreign to Americans. When one considers it was palace, political statement, and center of power all at the same time, it's easy to understand how significant it was in French history. Built from a humble hunting lodge by Louis XIV, the "Sun King," it embodies everything he wanted the Bourbon dynasty to stand for: wealth, power, beauty, security, and luxury. Even the gates were gilded.
As a huge tourist attraction, the main palace itself was packed for the morning portion of our tour. I have to confess, the pushy tourists did detract a bit from the experience for me, but getting to soak up these gorgeous sights did plenty to distract, including the Chapelle Royale...
...the elaborate ceilings and crystal chandeliers in every room...
...views of the palace that seemed to go on forever...
...and my personal favorite, Marie Antoinette's floral explosion of a royal bedchamber.
Emily got into quite the staring contest with Louis XV while relaxing in there, by the way. (I think he won.)
It wouldn't be a Versailles trip without a leisurely wander through the famous Hall of Mirrors. Emily's stunning camera work really highlights the visual impact of the chandeliers lining the hall...imagine them all lit up and reflected in windows and mirrors on both sides! How intimidating.
My fail of a photo, on the other hand, does at least give an idea of the kind of crowds we were dealing with. Insane, right?
I did find a clear bit of mirror to take the ultimate selfie in though. Millennial vanity for the win!
After a quick lunch break down in the village of Versailles, we rendezvoused with our small tour group (and our OUTSTANDING guide, Anne-Sophie!!) for visits to the three smaller properties on the grounds of Versailles...Le Hameau de la Reine, the Petit Trianon, and the Grand Trianon! I was extra-excited for these tours, as we had skipped them back on my 2010 visit...just look at the moderate crazy radiating from my eyes, below. Steer clear of the nerd, or she'll start spouting obscure facts about 18th-century monarchs at you!! Even more exciting, though, was seeing the sun break through the clouds right in time to explore the expansive gardens and acres of wild space on the palace grounds.
Le Hameau de la Reine, or "Marie Antoinette's Hamlet," is a small, fake farm that Louis XVI had constructed for Marie as an escape from the constriction of formal palace life. She used to go hang out there with all her wealthy princess and duchess friends, pretending to be a peasant while drinking fresh milk out of priceless china in buildings that were painted to look artificially aged. I love the detachment and excess of it all. The village itself looked postcard-pretty after the rain.
There was even a cow! And chickens, and goats, and geese, and fish...this place was a serious working farm. It even has its own tiny winery, owned by the Coppolas. Because, of course.
Like the doomed queen herself, however, we soon tired of pastoral play and headed for the Petit Trianon, the smaller of the two outlying palaces at Versailles. Louis XVI also gifted this to Marie Antoinette after the birth of their first daughter. Smaller and much simpler than the main palace, it offered her a private retreat where she could entertain only her closest friends, and where courtiers, including her husband, could only enter by her express invitation.
The iconic portrait by Elisabeth Marie Vigée-LeBrun hangs there...I died and went to heaven, figuratively, upon viewing it in person!
I also fell in love with her gorgeous music salon.
The Grand Trianon, on the other hand, is a long, snaking Italianate confection of pink marble that was used for more formal court escapes from the main palace. Just take a look at this! I even dressed to match it, haha.
As much as I loved Marie Antoinette's music room at the Petit Trianon, I guess I could settle for this heavenly yellow salon...it IS my favorite color, after all.
After Anne-Sophie posed the question, we all agreed that we preferred the Petit Trianon to the Grand Trianon, though. With that, we departed the outlying buildings to head back to the gardens for what was, in my opinion, the highlight of the day...the fountain show! This post is getting to be a beast, though, so we'll save that for later. As the French say, à demain, mes amis...see you tomorrow, friends!