Quel Beau Château

The Château de Versailles, as any visitor can tell you, is opulence incarnate: not a cent was spared on the polished, parquet floors, brocade furnishings and lavish, frescoed ceilings. Once home to the kings and queens of France – until the ancien régime was toppled by the peasants of the day and the guillotine did away with their heads – Versailles is a palace of wealth, a nod to the halcyon days of France’s nobility.

Our journey to Versailles began with a trip to a nearby boulangerie for a roulé au chocolat – think pain au raisin with chocolate instead of sultanas. We then purchased single tickets to Versailles Château Rive Gauche, and hopped aboard the metro, changing at Austerlitz to pick up the RER C. It wasn’t long before we were speeding out of central Paris towards the leafy suburb of Versailles. From the station, it was a short, idiot-proof walk to the palace gates. (Clue: follow the hundreds of other people heading to the same place.)

We knew the Château de Versailles was popular, but were more than a little gobsmacked at the size of the queue, which snaked up and down the courtyard: a maze of bodies, heads covered by hats, umbrellas or newspapers, none of which afforded much relief from the intense sun. Quite clearly, it was the earlier bird who caught the worm here – the 09:30 early bird simply wasn’t early enough for Versailles’ monster queues. We were easily amused by those modelling makeshift hats from their maps, and not at all amused by the couple who tried to jump the queue when we were almost at the front. (Luckily the woman behind us intervened and gave them a talking-to, and they skulked off, tails between their legs.)

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After nigh on two hours of melting in the queue, we finally made it inside, past the security checks and through the Pearly Gates. (At that point, the prospect of spending an hour or so out of the heat was heavenly, though that sentiment was short-lived due to the immense crowds within the palace walls.) Standing in the Cour Royale, we drank in the windows edged with gold gilt and the pink marble colonnades before making our way into the palace proper.

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Once inside, the throngs of visitors made it almost impossible for us to pause and take in our surroundings, as we were herded along by the crowd; the only way to resist the swarm of tourists making a beeline for the world-renowned Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces) was by edging along the walls. Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceilings; light poured through the windows. Golden cherubs blew trumpets above marble carvings, watching visitors from above. Crests, busts and suits of armour – all gold – adorned the walls in numbers equivalent to my postcard collection. Although the masonry and craftsmanship which had gone into the construction of the palace was incredible, the crowds did detract from the experience; after a fairly perfunctory (self-guided) tour of the palace, we were only too happy to move on to the gardens.

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Feeling a little drained from over-exposure to immense crowds, we paid for our tickets to the gardens (a necessity on this day, due to the Musical Fountains Show) and promptly collapsed in a heap in the shade to munch our lunch. Once suitably refreshed, we cracked on with the task at hand: exploring as much of the gardens as we possibly could.

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After the extravagance of the palace, the gardens were more of a muted affair: manicured parterres (sans fleurs, even at the end of May), trim box hedges and topiary and small groves. It’s all – dare I say it? – rather samey. (Or maybe I’m the only one who thinks that once you’ve seen one grove you’ve seen them all.)

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More often than not, Laurence and I are terrible at scheduling breaks in the day to relax, and operate a go-go-go policy, which is all very well until you encounter blisters and/ or a very hot day. The Musical Fountains Show provided us with a great excuse to rest up every now and again and enjoy some fountain displays set to classical music; not my favourite genre, but fitting for the location. Though we stuck to the shade as much as possible, we inevitably came to the conclusion that the hot weather necessitated an ice cream scoop – or three, as the case may be. (It was cheaper to share three scoops in a pot than it was to have a scoop each in a cone, so three scoops it was, waistline be damned.)

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It was at this point that we decided to potter over to the Domaine de Trianon, which turned out to be the highlight of our visit to Versailles. At long last, we had done the impossible and escaped the crowds. The interiors of both the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon resembled English stately homes: tastefully furnished with an underlying less-is-more décor policy.

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Outside, flowers added a splash of colour to the gardens and beavers foraged along the banks of the stream which wound its way through the estate. By late afternoon, we were feeling pretty weary, so didn’t venture over to Marie-Antoinette’s former residence, the Hamau de la Reine.

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For many visitors to the French capital, the Château de Versailles is the crowning glory of the tourist attractions. That said, in spite of all the money they quite clearly threw at the place, I wasn’t sold on it. (Though I did enjoy wandering round the Estate of Trianon.) Perhaps it was the crowds. Perhaps it was simply a wee bit overhyped. Perhaps I’ll never be able to pin down exactly what it was that just didn’t do it for me.

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Tips:

  • We purchased single tickets to Versailles as we had considered travelling back into Paris from an alternative station. In hindsight, this was a bad idea. Buy yourself a return ticket, and save yourself from spending ages in a queue at the ticket machine for the return leg of your journey. It’s also worth noting that some ticket machines only take card or coins, and not notes.
  • If possible, visit the Château de Versailles on a weekday to avoid the worst of the crowds – though don’t forget that it’s closed on Mondays.
  • We took advantage of the Château de Versailles ticket waiver for -26 EU citizens; it’s worth checking if you’re entitled to any concessions prior to visiting. Entry to the gardens is free for everyone, except during Musical Fountains Shows and Musical Gardens. See the official website for more details.
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26 thoughts on “Quel Beau Château

  1. When I visited Versailles, there were random installations of contemporary art (e.g. feather sculptures) all over the palace. Did they get rid of that? I visited just before I turned 26 (my last month of free entry as an EU resident!) but they wouldn’t let us in the gardens because it was the wrong day of the week – super annoying. So I’ve only been to the free canal area around back. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a beaver in real life – they are smaller than I thought! Also, I support all your ice cream decisions. Three scoops seems very wise, given the circumstances 🙂

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    1. Those sculptures sound interesting! I’ve just done a wee Google search, and it appears the installations are seasonal. This year they’re in situ between May 30th and September 4th. If only I’d visited a few days later! (I was there on May 27th, if my memory serves me right.) Apparently some of the sculptures become permanent features, but I can’t say I noticed any. Maybe I was just being super unobservant though… How irritating that they wouldn’t let you into the gardens, but at least you managed to make the most of the -26 EU entry for access to the palace. It’s only the second time I’ve seen them “in the wild” (so to speak) – these were smaller than the one I saw swimming in the river in Bamberg, so I almost mistook them for otters!

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      1. Aha! Good to know! Honestly I thought the sculptures I saw were really out of sync with the palace, I would have preferred to see it without them (although it does make for a funny memory. There was also a giant silver shoe sculpture, if I remember correctly).

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      2. With those sorts of things, I tend to find they either work really well or just don’t work at all. A giant silver shoe could have a tenuous link to Cinderella, I guess 🙂

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    1. Visiting the Château de Versailles in summer does seem to equate to large crowds (on a scale I hadn’t seen before, if the truth be told). It was an incredible sight to see, though!

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  2. I am insanely jealous! Not just of Versailles but all of your travels & beautiful posts ! How did you enjoy Paris? 🙂

    I will remember your point on the queuing, any further travel tips/points for the beautiful city? I’ve been longing to visit again for years now & hoping to book a trip for early next year.

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    1. Paris will never be my favourite city in France (I’m biased towards the towns/ cities I’ve lived in), but I did thoroughly enjoy exploring all it had to offer in the sunshine 🙂 I think the best thing about Paris is that it suits any length trip – a weekend is perfect for an overview of the city and seeing the key sights, while a long weekend/ week gives you time to explore the outer arrondissements and/ or take a day trip out of the city. Once you know how long you’ll be there, I’d recommend identifying the sights you want to see, and then splitting your days up geographically – e.g. spending the morning wandering round the Latin Quarter and the afternoon round Le Marais. This way, you avoid zigzagging across the city, thereby giving you more time to explore and reducing the time spent in transit 🙂 Security has definitely been stepped up a notch in recent months, so longer queues and more thorough bag searches are (unfortunately) an inevitability. I’ve got a few more posts coming up on spots in and around Paris which may be of interest to you 🙂 Hope you make it back to the City of Light again soon!

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      1. It’s one of those things you don’t really think about until you experience it! I certainly hadn’t banked on it adding so much time to the queuing.

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  3. I’ve never bought tickets for Versailles because I’ve always had a student visa / under 26 EU visa and being able to skip the “buying tickets line” and just going to the entrance line has made all the difference! Although I’m sure there was more security when you went than each time I’ve been (my last visit was Spring 2015). I’m SO SO impressed that you were able to do the palace, gardens, AND the Trianon domaine all in one day! The max I’ve ever done was the palace+gardens, and even that was a lot! I’d definitely recommend going during low season or when the weather’s not so nice to visit the palace, because the crowds were significantly smaller when I went in February than when I went in May or September. My favorite part were actually the Princess’s quarters (much less crowded than the actual palace and Galerie des Glaces), but I’d say give the palace another chance to win you over 🙂

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    1. It’s definitely a massive plus to be able to get in for free! (It always amazes me how many young Brits aren’t even aware of the discounts/ entry tariff waivers they can get in these places.) I think security has probably gone up a gear in recent months, given the spate of attacks across France/ Europe since early 2015 – it was almost airport-esque security to enter the palace, though it was much more lax for the gardens and Trianon. By the end of the day I could definitely see why some people spread it across two days – it was a hell of a lot of ground to cover, and more time would have been nice! Visiting in the off season is definitely something I’d keep in mind if I were to go back, as the smaller crowds would make it a much more enjoyable experience 🙂

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  4. The long lines at the Château de Versailles are an adventure in themselves! I agree with the previous comments: buying the tickets online in advance is advisable and even if they don’t necessarily let you bypass the queue, it cuts out the step of having to buy the tickets at the office, then wait in the entrance line. From the two times I’ve been, I’ve personally found the inside of the château just-okay (yes pretty, but can be all seen in an hour). The gardens, however, were the highlight: one could spend easily two days just exploring the estate!

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    1. They really are – I’d never seen a queue like it before in my life! The queue-related issues stemmed from the fact it was the entrance/ security queue that was mega long. We bypassed the ticket queue, as we could just show our passports in place of a ticket (making the most of those EU perks while they last!) but it was the entrance queue that was lengthy and slow. Part and parcel of visiting such a famed and popular attraction, I guess! I agree with you – the château was nice but all a little too over the top for me. Escaping the crowds in the gardens (and Estate of Trianon) was the highlight for me!

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    1. It’s one of those things that I’ve just never got the hang of, though weather conditions (extreme heat or heavy downpours) do sometimes dictate that breaks be taken! It’s worth visiting at least once – and definitely worth avoiding at a weekend if you can, as it’s just so busy then.

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  5. Versailles – it really is spectacular, it is in fact almost beyond belief. And my sympathies fir the queue, it can indeed be hellish in the heat. I remember making it in in an about hour. But you can actually purchase the ticket beforehand ( wish I had known that 😁!)

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    1. The craftsmanship is truly incredible – especially all the painted ceilings! We didn’t have to buy tickets, as it’s free for under 26 EU citizens, but unfortunately it was the security queue and not the ticket queue that was long, and there was no way of avoiding it! We live and learn 🙂

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      1. Lucky you 😊, to be under 26 again 😊, the security line issue is news for me, as back when I visited Versailles it was just a cursory glance. Times do indeed change…

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      2. Have to make the most of it while it lasts – and before Brexit comes into full force! It was edging towards airport security, though I suppose recent events have made such precautions necessary.

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