Where we went
Versailles, formerly the home to the French royal family up till the death of Louis XVI (and events preceding his execution), is today one of the most expensive, traditional and wealthy suburbs in Paris. You won’t find factories or industries here. Ohno, a good part of the suburb is dedicated to the the grounds of the Château de Versailles and its gardens while the rest features shops catering to both locals and tourists, as well as residential homes and other “service”-oriented buildings like schools, administrative buildings and so forth.
While Paris remains as the official capital city of France, in practice government-related affairs like senate and parliamentary meetings, greeting of dignitaries and so forth are still held at Versailles. It is very much still a place of political power as it was in its heyday as well as a popular tourist destination.
Things to take note of
Walking is a must in this large estate – the castle alone takes up 11 hectares of space while the gardens? A very massive 800 hectare-area of greenery for you to take in. So wear very comfortable shoes and stock some water plus a snack or two – nothing too smelly or messy please (you can’t eat inside the Château) (and take your trash with you if you’re outside).
If you’re visiting the Gardens during the summer or late spring months when the weather is bright and sunny, bring a hat and some sunblock to avoid burns…and definitely bottles of water! Oh, don’t forget to visit the toilets first too. As always, the queue for the mens are much shorter!
Now, while you’re admiring this elegant place, do be aware of pickpockets – crowds plus the wonderful AND distracting displays offer these quick and agile thieves the perfect opportunity to carry out some petty crime so keep your wits about yourself while you’re enjoying the sights. The usual precautions apply – make sure you can see your things and don’t carry too much baggage. There is a clockroom just after the entrance where you can check in your bag and such for free.
There will also be hoards and hoards of tourists – what do you expect from a UNESCO World Heritage Site? So if you don’t fancy being part of the crowds, start early and well, take your time. Chances are they’ll move through the place faster than you do!
How to get there plus opening hours & prices
To get to Versailles by public transport, exit at the RER station of Versailles-Rive Gauche (on RER line C).
Do note that the Château is closed on Mondays, certain French public holidays and during official ceremonies – so your best bet is usually to come during the weekend even though it can be much more crowded than usual. Low season at Versailles is from 1 November to 31 March whereas high season is from 1 April to 31 October (rightly so because during winter, the place isn’t so pretty!).
Ticket prices vary according to what exactly you want to see and are valid for an entire day. The one Nil and I took are to see the Château, gardens and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate. It costs €16 and comes with a free audioguide service. Now, this is the important part – tickets are available on sale at Versailles itself but the queue is ultra long and the counter closes at 3pm. You’re better off buying the tickets online here or at FNAC (book & music store giant) and SNCF (French National Railway) stations like Gare de Lyon, Gare Austerlitz, Gare du Nord and Gare Montparnasse 1 & 2.
For more info, check out the Château de Versailles’ website here (in English and also available in Chinese & French).
The Château today has 700 rooms and houses over 6 000 paintings, 15 000 engravings and 2000 sculptures. The origins of the Château itself can be dated back to 1623 when Louis XIII built a hunting lodge and later had it enlarged. Later, the Sun King (Louis XIV, his son) redecorate the place and following the many years to come, the Château went under intensive plastic surgery to give it a more opulent and decadent appearance befitting of the French royal family – a surgery that continued on into the reign of Louis XVI.
After his execution, the Château became a museum and then the home of Napoleon’s wife only to be turned into a musueum again in the 17th to 18th century. During the World War II, much of the treasures and objets de arts were removed or used to finance wars (during Louis XIV’s time) hence the Château fell into disrepair. Today, while much of the Château has been repaired to its original state, restoration efforts are still on-going with the assistance of American foundations and individuals/families like the Rockefellers.
On your must-see list are naturally the King and Queen’s apartments with its many salons furnished with richly painted walls and ceilings topped off with decadent coverings and furnishings, the Hall of Mirrors – a 73 metres long, 10.5 metres wide, and 12.3 metres high hallway which features antique mirrors made in Paris, marble pilasters, topped off with a variety of busts and statues – and its magnificent collection of paintings and sculptures in any one of the historical galleries.
Six million visitors come here annually and it is no wonder why. Covering over 800 hectares of greenery, the Versailles Jardins features rows and rows of lawns, blooming flowers, sculptures and what else but fountains and more fountains! Of course I chose a really crappy time to come (as you can see above) – nothing but dark green and brown, brown, brown over the horizon. So really, there is a reason as to why low season is cheaper!!! ^^
Come during middle of spring to summer or even up to autumn and you’ll see why this Garden is awfully popular with tourists. It’s not just the size but the craziness of it all. There is an orangerie (orange grove), groves of woods, mazes, flowerbeds, ornamental pools, a canal measuring seven kilometres around its edges (a Little Venice by itself), water sculptures topped off with pruned trees and what-nots. I can’t even begin to imagine the number of gardeners tending to this place every season.
The number of pools and fountains alone are staggering – 32 topped off with a network of 200 kilometres of channels, trenches, and aqueducts!!! Lets not forget the number of trees – 200 000 trees and 200 000 over flowers planted annually! Talk about taking gardening to new heights!
Be prepared to walk a lot here – we opted for a quick look because it was quite chilly but if the day is sunny and the weather is nice, take out your camera and go nuts!
Full set of pics are available here.