Visiting the famous Chateau de Versailles is a popular and worthwhile day trip from Paris. Built by the lavish Louis XIV, the Sun King, the palace is one of the most extravagant in Europe. The palace itself is impressive, but in my opinion the best part of the estate is the garden.
My favourite part of the sprawling garden is Marie Antoinette’s little village at the far end of the grounds. Despite the enormity of the chateau de Versailles, every room is always crowded. It’s impossible to admire anything without someone holding their camera in front of your face, so that they can get the best picture of whatever you’ve been patiently waiting to look at. I haven’t been there since the advent of the Selfie Stick, but I imagine it has only made the palace more frustrating to visit. The gardens are fairly busy in summer, but there is enough room to spread out from the crowds. In winter, they’re even better. If you’re rugged up and wearing good walking shoes, you’ll be able to take the time to explore the grounds, and find several spaces that you’ll have to yourself.
I found it hard to grasp the gravity of Versailles, because it was so full of tourists that it felt more like a museum than a former royal residence. In the gardens, it felt like we’d stepped back in time as we walked through the nearly-deserted village.
A bored Marie Antoinette ordered the village to be built as a place for her to relax and play away from the palace. She made peasants dress up as farmers to act in the background, and filled the village with farm animals such as chickens and sheep. The young queen loved to dress up like a peasant, albeit a much more fashionable one, and play with lambs and other farm animals.
It’s a poignant reminder that Marie Antoinette was only fourteen or fifteen during her reign, which makes her a much more sympathetic character. It also highlights how out of touch the monarchy was in France and how infuriating it must have been to be an actual peasant, being forced to play peasants with a spoiled teenager.
The village looks like a setting from a fairy tale. One look at the architecture of the village is a dead give away that this wasn’t based on real villages at the time, because it is certainly pretty, but rarely practical. Delicate spiral staircases and beautified cottages were luxuries only the Queen could afford.
I visited Versailles for the first time with Dad on a cold February day. My next visit was in the middle of summer, on an uncharacteristically rainy day, during my exchange. At least this time the flowers were blooming, which completely transformed the village. I’ve included photos from both trips.
Soak up the amazing view from the back of the palace, across manicured hedges and low-cut mazes and down a path in between perfectly symmetrical gardens and forests, dotted with fountains before you begin. During the winter visit it was freezing, even colder than had been in Paris, so we hired a buggy rather than walk. We’d spent so much time already in the palace, we wanted to get to the village faster so we could still have time in Paris that afternoon. In winter, the forest isn’t much to look at and the fountains are turned off – in summer the walk is much more enjoyable!