If you travel to Versailles, just 15 miles southwest of Paris, you’ll have multiple sites in the immediate area to visit. The actual Palace of Versailles, or Chateau de Versailles, was established as the main residence for King Louis XIV, who thought the country life of Versailles far preferable to the threatening city life in Paris. Nearby, you’ll find the Grand Trianon, the Petit Trianon and the Marie Antoinette Estate.
My husband and I enjoyed accommodations at Trianon Palace Waldorf Astoria. The Palace (Chateau de Versailles) is a brief walk from there, with convenient stops for breakfast or lunch along the way.
Our secret to visiting the Palace of Versailles and its associated properties is to tour on Monday. “Wait,” you say, “Isn’t it closed on Mondays?” Yes. On Mondays, the palace and various other buildings are closed. However, the grounds are open at no charge.
Our favorite pastime has become renting a golf cart within the garden and taking a one hour tour. You don’t have to worry about getting lost. The carts and paths are equipped with a device that stops you if you venture off the designated route. If this happens (and it MIGHT have happened to me, as I am challenged in the navigational sense), you simply put the cart in reverse until you pass the invisible barrier, at which time you once again jolt forward. While you drive along, classic music is piped into the cart and you have the choice of a tour guide voice over in English or French. He doesn’t babble the entire time either – only when you pass points of particular interest, and those observations are relatively short.
Versailles on Monday has been our go-to strategy both times we visited in early September. The grounds were so quiet, it often felt we were completely alone as we puttered along through the gardens and along the path leading to the Petit Trianon and the Grand Trianon.
The Grand Trianon was built by Louis XIV as a retreat from the formality of court. Don’t be fooled, though. The Grand Trianon is a beautiful, red marble palace. The Petit Trianon is situated just “next door” to the Grand. Louis XV commissioned the building of Petit Trianon as a love nest for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, but she passed away before construction was complete. Later, the Petit became the domain of Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI.
Upon reaching these destinations, you can park and walk around the exterior going picture crazy. It was a moody, overcast day when I took the photos below. There is a one hour time limit on the carts before an additional charge is added, but we found we could explore without feeling too rushed. We even parked within the gardens and took photos of the fountains and grand canal.
After gaining your bearings via the cart tour, stroll the grounds to your heart’s content. The Gardens at the Palace of Versailles consist of more than 1900 acres of forest, structured gardens and orchards, spectacular fountains and the grand canal. We walked approximately 7 miles total, so make sure your feet are happy in comfortable shoes or boots. Layering came in handy, as this time of year it can be in the 70s or into the mid to upper 80s.
The good news is, those casual layers will take you into (or on the patio of) multiple restaurants on your route back through town. We took a break to have a glass of wine at a sidewalk café and discuss our favorite sites before returning to the hotel .
Following our “outside” Monday tour, the following day was spent inside the Palace of Versailles, the Grand and Petit Trianons. Make sure you take time to walk through the Hamlet. Although closed on Monday, you can visit easily after exiting the Petite Trianon. Restorations are underway on the Queen’s House and Warming Room, courtesy of Dior. You know what that means: Trip #3, coming up!
For more travel tips, read Across the Pond: One Bag Packing.