a heroine’s travel guide to Versailles, France / by Andie Lollo
Versailles: the home of the Sun King, dream vacation of French Revolution history buffs, and quiet, wonderful city. Heroines, I have brought you a guide to the garden-filled, gilded and grand environment of your dreams.
First, a little background.
If you’re familiar with Paris, you may have heard of a little museum called the Louvre. I’m kidding, it’s massive, and that’s because it used to be the royal palace.
That’s right, up until 1682, Versailles was nothing more than a huge expanse of forest with King Louis XIII’s hunting lodge in the middle of it. When his son, now known as the Sun King, decided to move the entire royal court out to his father’s lodge in Versailles, a vision was born.
Soon came man-made lakes, intricate gardens, and a palace to rival all others the world over. That small village has now grown into a wealthy suburb and home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Allow me to open to you the gates of this marvelous storybook city. Enjoy your stay in Versailles.
Take a Walk (from the train).
Only about a 10 minute train ride from Paris, you’ll start your walk in the morning from Gare de Versailles-Chantiers. Follow the Rue des États Généraux to Avenue de Paris and behold: a larger-than-life tree-lined avenue with a clear view of the Château at the end. Wave hello to the Hôtel de Ville on your way to the palace – it’s where the mayor lives.
This is a great time to pop in some earphones and press play on the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s ‘Marie Antoinette’. The mix of classical and modern music is the perfect blend to represent the journey you’ll take in Versailles.
Visit the Gift Shop.
When you arrive at the Château, watch your feet. Those cobblestones are ancient and total ankle-breakers. Now’s a great time to head to the left and check out the gift shop – they’ve got everything Marie-Antoinette themed a girl could wish for, and French history books in every language under the sun (king). Shop to your heart’s content among all the stationary and macarons. I personally recommend picking up one of the novels about the Queen. They’re written diary-style in first person, and are a fascinating read for any heroine.
Explore the Gardens.
Next, bypass those serpentine lines of tourists and head towards the gardens. They’re free! (Except for days with fountain shows, but more on that later.)
Stop to check out the view of the last Queen’s intricate gardens over the balcony before exploring her beloved land on your own. You might take this time to ponder some of the more interesting statues, get lost in the labyrinthine hedges, or do some sketches.
When you’ve had enough of the Royal Gardens, head towards the canal. Now might be your time to find a spot to picnic or read. Or, if you want, you can rent a rowboat and take it out – how romantic! What you absolutely must do, I suggest, is walk all the way around the cross-shaped canal. This means taking the paths or the grass around the perimeter of the water.
Tip: Go right, and work your way around that way, eventually leading you back to the Apollo Fountain. While you’re on your walk, our next destination crops up.
Les Trianons & Orangerie
Marie Antoinette’s estate is found at the right wing of the canal, including the Trianon Palaces and the Queen’s Hameau (little village). Take some time here to locate one of the fresh juice vendors, who will squeeze you an incredibly flavourful cup of orange juice from the Orangerie before your very eyes. Armed with a refreshing beverage, carry on through your stroll. When you’ve had enough of the estate continue on your walk around the canal. Feel free to dip your feet in the water if it’s a hot summer day.
You’ll find that the farther you head towards the cross’s far end, the less people you’ll see. If you do, they’re most likely locals going for a jog or bike ride.
Congratulations, you’ve made it halfway around the canal! Complete your walk by following its shape the rest of the way back to the Royal Gardens.
You won’t find any tips about actually touring the Château here because, honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it. It was so packed full of literal busloads of tourists the one time I did go, that the grandeur of the palace didn’t really seem all that grand. Your decision. But, as a fellow heroine, I implore you to take the path less crowded.
Relax on the Plan Suisse.
When you head out the gates, take a sharp right and keep going straight. This will take you over to another man-made lake, the Plan Suisse.
It’s an idyllic spot to read, write, do homework, have a picnic, or even a nap! You may again want to take a walk around, even touch the statue at the far end, or simply relax. You’re having a good old fashioned Versailles day.
Lunch Outside the Versailles Cathedral.
From the Plan Suisse make your way to the Rue du Maréchal-Joffre where the Versailles Cathedral rests in a large square. Pop into one of the patisseries for a snack, if you haven’t packed one (I’d go with some pain au chocolat and a macaron). Take your loot around the right side of the church where a pretty little bench awaits you in a quiet park and observe. If you’re lucky, you may be in time to witness the coming and going of a mass, where the French are dressed in their best.
Before heading back to the train, listen to your heart for a moment. Are you ready to leave? Did you take what you wanted from Versailles, or are you already pining for your next leisurely day in the Queen’s Gardens?
Nighttime Musical Fountain Show
If so, you’re in luck. Remember how I mentioned on certain days the jardins are not free? That’s because at night, the Chateau puts on a musical fountain show. Yes, you read that right. If you want to experience something truly ethereal, stay til after dark and bask in the magnificence of the illuminated gardens. Baroque music soothes you from all sides as the water spectacular delights your eyes. Oh, and at the end, the Grand Canal is lit up with fireworks. Now that’s my way of spending a Saturday night!
Heads up, heroines. After your magical night, be careful walking back to the train station. I know you’re all smart women, but it’s easy to get confident and let your guard down. Don’t. Tourists are never safe. You’re not quite a heroine without a little danger.
Andie Lollo is a writer, artist, and blogger behind AndieLollo.com, an animation appreciation blog. She’s also the author of Spongebob & Happiness, a series dedicated to analyzing the Nickelodeon show through the lens of mental health, and a debut novel on Swoon Reads, ‘New Paris U’.
> Xandra recommends: How To Be Like Rapunzel
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