The palace of Versailles
The palace of Versailles

Visiting the Chateau de Versailles has long been an aim of mine but for one reason or another I’ve never been before now. As I have a friend over for the week I decided we’d spend the last day in Versailles before heading back to the airport.

I’m pleased I made that decision as the palace and grounds are fantastic.

The satnav brought us to the coach park right out front which was €53, so we headed for the massive car park next door which turned out to have height barriers on. So I quickly swung a left and headed roughly in the direction of the south side of the palace. Sure enough, within a mile I’d found a place to park right opposite some little used gates. 🙂

There’s two little huts, made to look like tents on either side of the gate entrance. (It turns out there’s lots of gates as the grounds are absolutely enormous!) As we look beyond them we can see a path that continues for about a mile dead straight, lined with trees either side. In the middle is what looks like a lake, but when you get up to it it’s the grand canal which is about a mile long they tell me. When you reach it, look east and you see the palace about 400 metres in the distance. It’s bloody huge!

We decided to waste no time and headed up toward it, past the fountain that turns out to be Apollo. It’s very reminiscent of the Trevi fountain, with men blowing horns and leading horses as they charge out of the water. I suspect one inspired the other somewhat. The marble statues that line the path up to the main palace are of Bacchus, Saturn, Apollo etc. All marble, real major works, none of your plaster B n Q jobbies. A lot of steps takes you up to the palace back door. Even before you get the map you know this is going to take more than one day.

To the credit of whoever runs the palace the majority of it is actually open to the public. (Once you get in as there are only 3 people taking payment and only one of those can take debit cards!) Oddly though despite most being accessible, we were finished in about 4 hours. Later I came to the conclusion that this was because the interior of the palace is nowhere near as splendorous as the exterior. There’s simply not that much to see. The audio guides are brief with very little detail, and apart from some chairs, desks, clocks, beds, mirrors and paintings, there is just so little to look at, ponder about and ‘Oooh’ over. The spiral staircase in Chambord is way better than any in this palace, and the great hall in Chenonceau is almost as impressive as the one here. I did find 2 paintings of Psyche, which as you know from my visits to the Louvre, Canova’s sculpture of her revival with a kiss is one of my most favourite pieces of art. It was fascinating as I spent quite a significant effort trying to photograph Psyche’s face, which in the sculpture is very difficult, but I managed. It is pleasing to see that there is a definite resemblance between the painting and the sculpture. Maybe you don’t think so or maybe you can see it, I think it’s definitely there though.

Going back to the grounds, you could spend a week here. There’s Marie Antoinette’s former estate to explore, a farm, miles of grounds and miles of tree lined alleyways with little and large pieces of art dotted everywhere. Rowing boats and cycles to hire and woods and forest to explore as well as the mazes and gardens. I also spent the entire Saturday in the grounds after my friend had gone home and most of today (Sunday) despite the poor weather. Try not to buy anything in here it’s incredibly expensive. The smallest 50cl bottle of water is 3 euros, the boats are 11 euros per 30 minutes. The pass to enable you to see everything is 20 euros per adult. The pass is excellent value for money, you will I am sure get your 20 euros worth easily if you go early and stay late. If you don’t have much time pay 13.50 euros per adult and that gets you the major part of the palace. The gardens and grounds are free. You can spend the entire day there if you wish. It’s only the palace and other buildings that you pay to access. However there are special shows sometimes, such as the evening firework display, musical fountains etc which are included in the ticket price and the gardens are locked for those. If you really are stuck for time and want to ooohh and ahhh I’d consider foregoing the palace itself and visit the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon instead.

As always I’ve taken some photos, which mostly follow linearly the order that I visited the palace and grounds in.  I rarely take photos of people, but I took a few this time as I felt they could express something better than I could:  families enjoying their time on the boats; an old Englishman writing his diary; a Spanish girl who stood for ages staring at the palace in amazement.  I’ve sectioned the photographs, so go here for the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s estate and finally here, for St Louis cathedral and some general pictures of the city.

I’d recommend the Chateau de Versailles to anyone visiting this part of France as a fantastic day/weekend out and a must see.

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