Versailles Palace is on the to-do list for just about every visitor to Paris. Most people make a day trip of it, since the village of Versailles is only about a half-hour train ride (more or less) from the city. John had done just that on his previous Paris trip 20 years ago and he was keen to experience more of this picturesque little town. And of course, I’d never seen any of it and wanted to take it all in. That’s why we decided to spend two full days in Versailles after our whirlwind trip to Paris, and we’re so glad we did! It was hard to narrow down our list of the five things we love the most about Versailles, but here goes:
1. The Palace of Versailles
The Palace was a mere “hunting lodge” when King Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, decided to decamp from Paris and turn the place into his royal residence. Everything you’ve heard about the Palace is true: from the Hall of Mirrors to Marie Antoinette’s famous “Hameu” or Hamlet, it is a feast for the senses and truly over-the-top in every way an opulent royal palace complex can possibly be. I say “complex,” because there are actually three palaces on the property – the biggie, plus the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon. Here’s a great article that delves more into the history of the palace and the parade of royals who shaped Versailles and French history.
For our visit to the Palace, we chose another bike tour with Fat Tire Tours. The great thing about touring Versailles on a bike is that you can cover a lot more ground in a shorter period of time. That’s important with the Palace complex, because it’s very spread out.
2. The Potager du Roi (King’s Kitchen Garden) and Versailles Cathedral
We’re lumping these two together because they’re adjacent to each other and easy to see in a morning.
The King’s Kitchen Garden is a marvel. Located on 29 acres adjacent to the main Versailles Palace grounds, the garden still produces an incredible array of fruits, veg, and flowers, just as it has done for almost 350 years. Originally built and planted to provision the table of the Sun King and his royal residents and guests, today the garden is home to a national school of horticulture and landscape architecture. The produce is sold to the public in the Versailles Market stalls and also at the school.
The Cathedral, also known as the Church of St. Louis, was completed in 1754 under the reign of Louis XV.
3. The Gallery of Coaches
Located across from the main entrance to Versailles Palace, the Gallery of Coaches is in the historic Great Stables building, completed in 1682 to house the King’s pampered steeds. The exhibit is a jaw-dropping display of ceremonial carriages that have ferried the royal families through many of France’s most important historical events, such as marriage of Napoléon I, the baptism of the Duke of Bordeaux, the coronation of Charles X or the funeral of Louis XVIII. There’s also an amusing display of sedan chairs and sleighs. The Gallery is not to be missed, and – best of all – admission is free!
4. The Market
The Versailles Market has served royals and villagers alike from the same location since 17th century. The four buildings now on the site were built in the mid-1850s and house a dazzling array of gourmet treasures: wines, cheeses, bakeries, meats, olives, and on and on. The market was the first stop on our bike tour, where we picked up yummies for a picnic lunch we later enjoyed on the palace grounds. We were back later the next day to grab a roast chicken, bread, and other goodies for an impromptu dinner we enjoyed in our hotel’s little back garden. Heaven!
5. The Village
We loved just strolling around the charming village of Versailles, which doesn’t seem to have changed much since the days of the Bourbon Kings.
- Taking the train from Paris. Well, here’s the thing – it’s a little tricky. We were sure we had left Paris early enough in the morning that we’d be able to get to Versailles with time to spare before our 9 a.m. bike tour. Wrong! Finding the right train from the Chatelet-Les Halles station in Paris was a challenge, since signage (in our opinion) is severely lacking in that station. We finally figured it out: take the RER Line C train to the
Versailles Rive Gauche station – that’s the one closest to the palace. If you’re leaving from the Chatelet-Les Halles station, you’ll need to take the RER Line B train to Saint-Michel/Notre Dame and then transfer to the C line.
- Hotel. We stayed at the Hôtel du Jeu de Paume, an unassuming but charming little inn on a quiet street in a perfect location. We were just a block from the Rue de Satory, a picture-perfect pedestrian street lined with shops and restaurants, and within easy walking distance to all of the sites mentioned above. Side note: the hotel is named for the signing of the “Tennis Court Oath,” which happened in a nearby location and marked the beginning of the French Revolution.
- Food and Drink. Yes and yes! Favorite restaurants were Chez Lazare and Via Veneto, on the beforementioned pedestrian street. And you can never go wrong picking up some delicacies from the market and finding a quiet green spot for a picnic.
Have you traveled to Versailles? Tell us about your favorites!