Up early, showered and breakfasted we journeyed towards Paris to spend the day at Versaille. This is a Unesco World Heritage site with massive ornate gardens, massive lakes, fountains, even bigger square hedges and a palace the size of errm, a Palace.
We arrived around 10.30am. The sat nav showed there was an Aire nearby but it was not in the Aires book so with the promise of parking for the night, a quick detour took us down a rough road to a bus depot. Surely this isn’t it! The guard on the gate waved us in and circled his fingers indicating for us to come in and turn round as is we were the tenth motorhome to check out the delights of his depot that morning. On driving back out we spotted several motorhomes in a field. No wonder we missed it, the entrance was a dirt track covered in rubble! We drove in and were met by the owner. Not sure what he said but it was more like a camp site than an Aire so we said we were just looking and exited back out.
Parking in Versaille
In a motorhome, don’t bother. We drove round for about 45mins and after much fustration and what looked like some demonstration happening that had closed roads due to a national strike we returned back to the road where the Aire was located and parked on the roadside opposite to a gate into the Versailles gardens at the end of the road.
Versaille is split into 4 vast areas (see information sourced from the official Versailles website below) but basically you’ve got the Palace, the gardens, a couple of extra smaller palaces and then Marie Antoinette’s playground hamlet where she pretended she was a poor person and basically started the French Revolution. We started in the gardens and hired bikes just to get around – walking them would have taken us hours.
We headed around to the Hamlet for midday – the supposed opening time, and at 12.30 we gave up and headed back to the other smaller palaces – well it was a national strike day! We had a quick look around the Grand Trianon – nice but nothing special, and a little look around the Petit Trianon, again nice but nothing special. Janes general opinion was “not as nice as Chatsworth”. From the Petit Trianon we walked through the grounds to get to the hamlet.
The hamlet is very cute and very English which is apparently the idea. Loads of fish in the lake which were all begging for food I think as they were right at the surface all around the edges of the lake. They have also recreated the vegetable gardens and there was a gorgeous arch of grape vines and the grapes were ripening very nicely – just had to have a little taste of course.
After that we headed back towards the palace as by that time it was gone 3pm which is a better time to visit on a Tuesday. Very little of the palace is open to the public really and it is still the state parliament so lots of restricted areas. However the bits we did get to see were incredible! Hall of Mirrors is a got to see, bedrooms, drawing rooms, and all of a sudden Jane’s saying “I can see where Chatsworth got it’s inspiration from” – ha! Most of the furniture is reproduction as the revolutionaries sold everything however I can see they are working on buying some of it back so if anyone has some Louis XIV furniture…
Completely exhausted and feet aching like mad we headed back to Ellie for a cold bowl of water (for the feet) and a nice cup of tea. And as the aire at Nogent Le Roi was so marvellous we headed back there for some dinner and a nice relaxing end to the day.
The Château de Versailles, which has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for 30 years, is one of the most beautiful achievements of 18th-century French art. The site began as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge before his son Louis XIV transformed and expanded it, moving the court and government of France to Versailles in 1682. Each of the three French kings who lived there until the French Revolution added improvements to make it more beautiful.
In 1661, Louis XIV commissioned André Le Nôtre with the design and laying out of the gardens of Versailles which, in his view, were just as important as the Château. The works were undertaken at the same time as those for the palace and took forty years to complete. But André Le Nôtre did not work alone: Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Superintendent of the King’s Buildings, directed the project from 1664 to 1683; Charles Le Brun, appointed First Painter of the King in January 1664, produced the drawings for a large number of statues and fountains; and, a little later, the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart drew up increasingly understated scenic plans and built the Orangerie. Lastly, the King had all the projects submitted to him and wanted the “details of everything”.
The laying out of the gardens required enormous work. Vast amounts of earth had to be shifted to lay out the flower beds, the Orangerie, the fountains and the Canal, where previously only woods, grasslands and marshes were. The earth was transported in wheelbarrows, the trees were conveyed by cart from all the provinces of France and thousands of men, sometimes whole regiments, took part in this vast enterprise.
The Grand Trianon
In 1687 Jules Hardouin Mansart built the Grand Trianon, probably the most refined group of buildings anywhere in the domain of Versailles, on the site of the “Porcelain Trianon”, which Louis XIV had had erected in 1670 to escape the pomp and rigid formality of court life with his mistress Madame de Montespan.
From the Petit Trianon to the Queen’s Gardens, passing by the Hamlet, the Estate, opened in 2006, reveals Marie-Antoinette’s private life. Louis XVI’s wife loved this place where she could return to the pleasures of simple, rural pursuits, away from the pomp of Versailles.
The Petit Trianon and its park are indissociably linked to the memory of Queen Marie-Antoinette. She is the only queen to have imposed her personal taste on Versailles. Sweeping away the old court and its traditions, she insisted on living as she wished. In her Trianon domain, which Louis XVI gave her in 1774, she found the heaven of privacy that enabled her to escape from the rigours of court etiquette. Nobody could come there without her invitation.
The reinstatement of the compound which shows most of the former arrangement: enclosing walls, gates, grills and saut-de-loup [Wolf’s jump] – shows the Petit Trianon domain as a guarded, preserved place, centred on its château. This arrangement shows the eclecticism and refinement of Marie-Antoinette, an art of living linked to free thinking, for the spirit of the Enlightenment was far from absent here.