This time next year I will be in Paris for a significant birthday – so I had better get on with recapping my time there last year!
How then do I feel about my experience? Very fortunate, that is how I feel having seen Versailles – it was genuinely quite thrilling – viewing the unbridled opulence, the rich colours, the sumptuous furnishings, the architectural grandeur, and the sheer drama of it all – how could it fail to amaze even the most cynical of travellers? It certainly met expectation, yet on reflection, there were some issues. The viewing experience, for example, was initially somewhat trying. Although we arrived early as the guidebooks wisely advise, and we had our tickets within minutes, when the queue started moving at opening time, we seemed to be swept along in a crush of humanity, all with cameras (yes, just like me), taking fleeting snaps and racing off to the next spendid room.
For me, that was not pleasant so we held back a little, and it was truly miraculous how the crush cleared as the bus loads of travellers, who had come as groups, thundered off into the distance and left us pretty much to ourselves in The Hall of Mirrors. In hindsight, exploring the gardens first and leaving the palace interior until the buses depart in the afternoon (around three), would seem like a good strategy.
With our brains crammed full of images of the lush interior of the palace (which I had studied carefully when I watched Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette movie, much of which had been filmed on site), we exited to a dull and dreary day. The gardens, while beautiful, lacked the glorious spendour I had imagined, and were harder to appreciate (and navigate), due to the works being done around the exterior of the palace and grounds (2014 seemed to the year for renovating iconic structures in Paris!). The impact of the magnificent grounds was also dimmed by overcast skies, making for quite a moody atmosphere. Nevertheless, we made a determined effort to walk the quite long distance to the Grand Trianon.
While the unmarbled parts of the larger Trianon looked as if they could do with some restoration, especially near the public entrance, on the whole, the opulent pink marble gave the building a lovely glow, even under cloudy skies. The Peristyle was dazzling with its stunning black and white floor, and the interior as expected, did not disappoint.
In the worsening weather we carried on to The Petit Trianon and this was a real treat. I could feel how Marie Antoinette must have loved it as a haven, with its cosy ambience – and the French Pavilion in the grounds was charming. Sadly we had no time to venture off to find The Queen’s Hamlet which looked so delightful in the Coppola movie.
As an experience, I savoured it, simply because of the tangible history and unimaginable grandeur on display – it is almost overwhelming – yet I think that the time of day, and the weather/seasons are important in colouring one’s view of the place. I would love to have seen the gardens in full bloom under warm sunshine. I wish too that we had thought about how we would navigate the vast grounds in the short time we had – taking advantage of the rental vehicles available (bikes or golf carts) would have been a good idea.
As I sit writing this, it occurs to me that I should have done just a little bit more “homework” on Versailles. Because I knew that the place would continue to intrigue me and that I would want to know more about it, I recently bought a second hand copy of Versailles: The Chateau, the Gardens and Trianon and it was an excellent buy. While it was published in 1984, it remains a very readable and useful guide and I have dipped into often. It certainly would have been wise to have read it before our visit.
Ultimately though, rain or shine, I wouldn’t have missed my Versailles experience, but I feel that Versailles and me have unfinished business…. especially since we had no time to visit the Cours des Senteurs! Maybe next year……
I hope these photos afford least some idea of what we saw…