Tackling the Palace and Gardens of Versailles in a day

Imagine walking through the grand hallways and rooms of King Louis XIV’s former palace. Majestic artwork and sculptures line the walls, artwork spreads across the ceilings, and chandeliers hang from the ceilings. It’s easy to be taken back in time, wondering how this could have possibly been someone’s home. When Brandon, our moms and I visited the Palace of Versailles I did my best to clear the noise and imagine what it would have been like for those who lived and visited there. Unfortunately the only time we were able to visit was over Easter weekend and with the massive crowds being herded through the palace, I couldn’t take it all in like I wanted. 

Even during non-holiday hours I hear it can get packed. If you’re looking to visit the palace, take in the gardens, and enjoy the entire area of the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon, I suggest looking at spending two to three full days in Versailles. Trying to find your way around can get very confusing and if you wait until getting to Versailles, you will spend much of your time trying to figure out how to get around. However, if you only have one day, here is how we tackled the area.

Starting in the Palace

The Palace of Versailles first began as a hunting lodge built by King Louis XIII in 1624. Then it was expanded into a royal palace and the official seat of the government of the kingdom of France by Louis XIV several decades later. In 1789, after the royal family had to flee Versailles due to the French Revolution, the palace fell into disrepair. Most of it was later restored and turned into a museum in the 19th century.

The palace has five areas you can visit. The Gallery of Battles, State Apartments, Louis XIV Rooms, Mesdames’ Apartments, and the Gallery of the history of the palace. Although this is not the order in which Brandon I walked through the palace, after doing it, this is how I would suggest it.

Gallery of the History of the Palace 

When you first enter the royal courtyard go the right where you can pick up an audioguide (we would have loved to have done this, but didn’t have time) and proceed to the gallery of the history of the palace on the ground floor. This is the perfect place to start because you walk through 11 rooms describing the evolution of the palace using paintings, models, and videos. It talks about how Louis XIV used the arts (architecture, paintings, sculptures, theatre, sciences etc) to show his power, as well as how he ordered 167 pieces of solid silver furniture to be melted down to help pay for the cost of the War of the League of Augsburg.

Louis XIV Rooms 

From here you can walk up the stairs (or use the lift) to see Louis XIV’s rooms. The rooms give you glimpse of the King, his family and the court, and major events of the 17th century.

State Apartments

At the end of the rooms, you can enter the state apartments. If you didn’t pick up an audio guide, make sure you pick up the map before entering. Throughout these next rooms, you can see how Louis XIV used the sun as his emblem and theme. The state apartments are one of the most significant areas of the palace. The first seven rooms are drawing rooms, all dedicated to a specific purpose. This mostly includes games, entertainment and dancing during the Kings’ receptions for the Court.

Next you enter one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring parts of the palace, the Hall of Mirrors. Among the glimmering chandeliers on the ceiling, you will find artwork illustrating the life of Louis XIV from 1661 to 1678. Underneath the paintings and surrounded by walls covered in mirrors and windows, this large room was used to hold royal weddings, large receptions, and ambassadorial presentations.

While we were there, the peace drawing-room, queen’s bedchamber, salon des Nobles, and the Queen’s antechamber, all part of the state apartments were closed for work. Just be aware Louis XIV rooms and the gallery of battles are also only open intermittently.

Gallery of Battles 

Although we didn’t get to spend much time in the next area, the Gallery of Battles, I would have loved to have studied the paintings more. The thirty-some paintings are large and life-like, displaying French dynasties.

Mesdames’ Apartments 

From the first floor, make your way back down the ground level and to the courtyard. You can walk directly into the area of Mesdames’ Apartments from there. If you are short on time, this is an area I would suggest skipping. While it gives you a glimpse into the 18th century, it was the apartments for Louis XV’s daughters and might not be as important as the King’s rooms and the state apartments. 

The Gardens 

Back outside you can get to the gardens on the left side of the palace, right outside the royal courtyard. Typically the gardens are free to visit with the purchase of the palace ticket. However, it does cost on musical fountain show and musical garden show days. Since the gardens were open later that day, we decided to head for the Petit Trianon and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate first. From the Palace to this area it is 1.5 km or a little less than a mile to walk. For 7.50 Euros (approximately $8.80), you can choose to ride the tram to the Petit Trianon, the Grand Trianon, and the Grand Canal. This is the option we chose.

The ride was a nice one, winding by the Neptune fountain and along the edge of the garden. Since we were short on time we decided to go straight to Petit Trianon.

Petit Trianon

This building was built between 1762 and 1768 for LouisXV and Madame De Pompadour’s private use. Less than a decade later, LouisXVI gave it to Marie-Antoinette and according to the complex, became her favorite place to stay. It includes a small, but beautiful church and luscious gardens.

Inside the home you have the chance to see Louis XV’s Billiard room, the first antechamber, the small and grand dining rooms, the queen’s bedroom, and a few other rooms. The Rechauffoir, which is the room where meals were reheated before being served, was particularly interested. It’s been restored to its original appearance and features copper cooking elements and 19th century tables.

From there we ventured back outside and walked about 10 minutes to the Temple of Love. This was definitely on my Versailles “to-do” list. The palace says Marie-Antoinette commissioned an architect to get rid of Louis XV’s botanical garden and make the area “more picturesque English-style garden, enlivened with a stream, constructions, lawns, views and winding paths.” The Temple of Love sits on an island and is a medium-sized Copula with 12 Corinthian column, marble floor, and the statue of a cupid. It truly is a romanic spot to take photos.

Although we wanted to see more of the estate (apparently there is a farm, Marlborough Tower, and many other fountains) and the Queen’s hamlet, we knew had to turn back in time to see the musical fountains.

Musical Fountains and Grand Canal

We caught the tram once again. Since our moms were exhausted, they stayed on the tram until it reached the palace again. Brandon and I however, got off at the grand canal and made our way back to the palace by walking through the gardens. Some of the musical fountains were grander than others and they were all very different from each other.

I liked how the hedges were tall and the fountains were spaced far from each other. This made it feel as if you could focus directly on the show in front of you without getting distracted by something else nearby. I especially liked the Colonnade Grove, Mirror Pool, Theatre Grove, Latona’s Fountain and ParTerre, Neptune Fountain, the area of the Water Walk, the orangery, and the water garden.

By the time Brandon and I made it back up to the palace to meet our moms, it was time to say goodbye to the Palace of Versailles. This became a once-in-a-lifetime visit I will be sure to treasure for a long time.

Tackling the Palace and Gardens of Versailles in a day Tackling the Palace and Gardens of Versailles in a day Reviewed by Tara Grimes on October 19, 2018 Rating: 5

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