When you see Versailles, it helps you understand why the queen lost her head, even if she was unfairly blamed for the extravagance. I read somewhere that an estimated 10% of all French wealth was used in its construction. It’s a monument to gross excess.
To me, the palace itself is simply overwhelming. It was built in an age when the czars, kings, queens, and emperors were all in competition to see who could outdo each other. Yes, they conducted affairs of state here also. But do you really need walls covered in 3 kinds of rare marble to do that?
Yet at the same time I shake my head over the magnificent statues, the grand master oil paintings, and the impressively arranged gardens, I’m also left to wonder: what if they hadn’t done any of this? What if the Hermitage, Neuchwanstein, Schonbrunn, or Versailles ever been built? The legacy that these royals left was not just an empty treasury. They left monuments that now people from all over the world can enjoy.
And so I do. My favorite room is the hall of mirrors. It’s the length of a football field and provides great views of the gardens on one side. I lost count at 40 of the number of giant chandeliers. Every small detail was hand made, right down to the curtain pulls.
But it’s the gardens that I enjoy the most. Laid out along a cross-shaped Grand Canal, from whence mock naval battles were conducted to amuse the queen, there are radiating arms of tall trees, some of which lead to fountains, and most of which are lined with priceless statues. Here you find an Orangery. There you find a maze. The lakeside restaurant is quite good, by the way, and makes an excellent stopping point for your trip to the Hamlet and the Trianons.
Then take a stroll or rent a bike and head over to the Trianon, which was a place for the unpopular queen to escape from the courtly life of Versailles. While in the area, the Hamlet is a must see. It’s a collection of 18th century dwellings designed by Marie Antoinette as a model village, complete with a mill, farm, inn, and even lighthouse. It’s a favorite of the kids because they still keep livestock there. Very quaint and photographic.
By the time I finish Versailles and take the 45 minute ride back into Paris I’m pooped. Tomorrow…I should sleep.