I was in Paris last month for two weeks. This was my second trip to Paris and having visited most of the must-visit places in Paris during my last trip, there were only a few places left on my list. Versailles (pronounced vehr-”sigh”) was one of them. A visit to Versailles is a day trip since it takes about 6 to 7 hours if you want to explore this famous residence of the French Monarchs. Versailles is a half hour drive from the city center. You can take the train which is very convenient or you could also catch a cab or uber. But if you are a solo traveller, the train is more budget friendly.
Once a hunting lodge it was turned into a palace so grand it was fit for the Gods (apparently, King Louis XIV considered himself one of them). It was the Residence of the French Monarchs and the center of the cultural heartbeat of Europe till the revolution of 1789. When you arrive in front of the palace, the sheer size of the royal gate which is 260 feet long and decorated with over 100,000 gold leaves and the courtyard on the other side of the gate will amaze you!
View of the palace from the Garden (The guy whose statue this was must have been important)
The Château de Versailles has 3 parts. The Château, the beautifully landscaped gardens and the Trianon Palaces and Domaine de Marie-Antoinette which is located at the far end of the gardens. I visited only the Château and the gardens since I spent so long in the gardens that I didn’t have a lot of time for the Trianon Palaces.
The State Apartments and The Hall of Mirrors were such a wonderful experience. The audio tour is something that I absolutely recommend for anyone visiting. I enjoy the small bits of history which I learn and I also think that using something like an audio guide or a tour guide makes you look at things which you would otherwise only see. The King’s Wing features rooms – each with a purpose. Most importantly this wing features the Hall of Mirrors. Back then, mirrors were very expensive and were a luxury and this room featured 17 arched mirrors which were nearly 250 feet long. The King would sit at the far end of this hall. It was quite interesting to stand there and imagine how this hall looked in action – with the hall filled with ambassadors, nobles and guests who were dressed in silk.
Side Note: I was curious as to why mirrors which these days are so cheap were considered a luxury 300 years ago. So I came back and did some research and learnt that the very first mirrors were made by polishing metals like bronze in contrast to coating glass in the present day. Which meant that only the rich were able to afford mirrors back in the day.
The palace provides a lot of history and insight into the history and life of the French Monarchs but I was really wowed and excited for the gardens of this palace. The gardens which was like the backyard of the palace residents stretches for 8 miles (!!!).
The view of the gardens – imagine this view with thousands of orange trees lining the royal drive
The view above was stunning, it feels like the gardens stretch on forever. King Louis XVI considered himself the Sun King. Oranges generally need a warm climate to grow in, but it was said that the warmth from the Sun King was so great that they grew in chilly France.
There were over 200 fountains spread throughout this green carpet. They were some of the most famous attractions since they were both a result of the marvels of art and engineering. The fountain you see in this picture above tells the story of the birth of Apollo and his sister Diana. Latona was an unwed mother. She was insulted by the local peasants for having children out of wedlock. She called on the king of gods, Zeus who happened to be the father of the children. Upon hearing her sorrow, Zeus turned all the peasants who insulted her into frogs and lizards. The fountain in the picture below is the centerpiece of the Apollo Basin. It shows the Sun God in his Chariot as he is about to set out on a journey, the half submerged horses give the impression of the sun rising out of the mists of dawn.
I was curious as to how these fountains worked when there were no motors and after googling it found out that fountains were gravity powered. They work on the same principle as creating pressure by blocking a hose with your fingers to increase the force. Simple yet effective!
The fountain in the Apollo Basin
Hidden behind the trees and bushes is a Colonnade, which the King built to make up for the lack of ancient ruins in France. As I walked through this garden, I couldn’t help but admire the amount of effort that had gone into planning it and maintaining this backyard. It also left me wishing for a backyard which was at least a fraction of this one.
Canals like the ones in Venice – Once gondoliers imported boats from Venice and lived close to this canal.
If you visit Paris and have a day to spare, I would definitely recommend visiting the Château de Versailles. Just the gardens are worth a visit and a nice place to spend time with friends and family as you stroll down the royal drive!