It’s our first three-day weekend (one of only a few), and in an effort to take full advantage of these precious times, my fellow classmate and I have decided to go exploring outside of Paris on a day trip to Versailles. I took the advice of several travel guides and purchased le passeport in advance at the FNAC department store in Montparnasse. This one-day pass includes admission to the Chateau, the gardens, the Grand Trianon, and Marie Antoinette’s estates, and also access to the Grands Eaux Musicales, which is only held on weekends from April to September. Because of this event, le passeport costs 25 euros on weekends, compared to 20 euros on a weekday. Trust me though, the gardens are much more spectacular and charming to visit when the fountains are on and classical music is playing in the background to complete the ambience.
We had planned to meet at the Javel train station at 8:30am and from there, take the RER line C to Versailles-Rive Gauche. I arrived a bit earlier and decided to take in a view of the sun rising above Paris from across the Seine River. The early-morning hours of the city was quite peaceful and the serene waters made for a perfect reflection of Le Tour Eiffel. (Can you spot the miniature Statue of Liberty off to the side?)
This was my first time at an RER train station, but fortunately, the system was pretty easy to figure out. Une billet aller-retour a Chateau Versailles, si’l vous plait? ”One round-trip ticket to Chateau Versailles, please?”
As it turns out, the RER train line is very similar to the Amtrak rail service. We got on the double-decker train and went up to the upper level for a nicer view. A short 20-minute ride later, we arrived in the city of Versailles.
From the Versailles Rive-Gauche station, it’s a mere 5-minute walk up to the Palace. The doors officially open at 9am… we got there a few minutes earlier and there was already a line forming in the courtyard. It was definitely a good thing that we had our ‘passeports’ in hand, otherwise we would have had to wait in line twice as long just to buy our tickets. By 10am, we had reached through the security checkpoint and was on the other side of the golden gates.
What was once the official residence of King Louis the XIV has been transformed into a gallery of dignified portraits, monumental statues, and majestic painted ceilings.
The famous Hall of Mirrors, excessively adorned with gold statues and glass chandeliers, was clearly designed for royalty, despite the reflections in the mirrors being a bit blurred and dull… but I suppose some wear-and-tear is expected from this 17th century centerpiece in the Palace of Versailles.
After touring inside the castle, we headed out to the gardens… an astonishing layout of vast open courtyards, groves, pavilions, fountains, and tastefully aligned marble statues.
The breathtaking view at the top from the Grande Perspective overlooking the Grand Canals spanned out further than the eye could see.
I felt as if I had suddenly been transported back in time to the days of Louis the XIV and I were member of the royal family. (Either that or I was imagining I was onset filming a scene from Pride & Prejudice… that similar type of feeling.)
From the Palace of Versailles, we walked about a mile to the Trianon estate, where Marie Antoinette established her private retreat.
This wholly intimate setting provided a haven for Marie Antoinette to escape from the everyday rigors of court etiquette.
I could imagine myself laying on the soft lawn in a quiet corner of the garden and just relaxing here all day long. I could seriously stay here forever.
In addition to the English-style garden (complete with a Belvedere, Grotto, and Temple of Love), the reigning Marie Antoinette also had her own village built for her to provide country amusements for herself and her children. Taking a stroll through the Queen’s Hamlet almost felt like going through the It’s a Small World attraction at Disneyland… except this was a real-life small world.
The scene of cute, tiny cottages with straw rooftops; a wooden water mill; a fishing tower overlooking a tranquil lake with schools of large fish and white swans and quacking ducks; a farm with livestock and roosters crowing; sheep, goats, and cows roaming freely; and a dovecote surrounded by flowers and vegetable gardens were all elements that seemed to have come right out of a storybook… only Marie Antoinette’s story lacked the happy ending.
By the time we left the village, it was already afternoon and we were both starving. We headed back down the long stretch of gravel road towards the Grand Canals for lunch.
After our warm panini sandwiches, it was time for dessert, and since it was such a nice day, of course we had to go for some ice cream! One of the most popular food stands along the Grand Canals serves the best artisanal gelato and ice cream. We both got double scoops in a waffle cone… my friend had tiramisu and chocolate and I combined chocolate with strawberry. We both agreed that the chocolate was probably some of the best ice cream we’ve ever tasted… smooth, luscious, silky, and rich with chocolate-y goodness! Even now, I’m drooling just thinking about it =P
That afternoon we burned off the calories from our sweet indulgence by walking endlessly, in and out through the maze of gardens and groves surrounding the Palace.
At the end of the day, we headed towards the right wing to catch the evening water show at Neptune’s Fountain.
I think both of us were a bit disappointed by the lack of pizazz at the finale because we were expecting something comparable to the fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas, with masterfully-timed waterworks, music, and lights. Although I imagine it to be quite a spectacle during the summer months when the fountain shows run throughout the night with music playing and fireworks lighting up the sky overlooking the Grand Canal… oh, how I wish it were summer already! Even so, Chateau Versailles has been one of the most enchanting places I’ve ever been to and as an extra bonus, I got a glimpse of a day in the life of a princess! The entire day felt a bit surreal… definitely worth every penny (or one cent euro).
Now, I’ve never really given much thought to my wedding day… never imagined what type of dress I’d be wearing, I don’t have any particular cake in mind, and the flowers, the music and rest of the pomp and circumstance can wait until I’m actually ready to get married … but if I were to pick my ideal location to tie the knot, it would no doubt be held in the handsome gardens of Chateau Versailles. Now, all I need is my Prince Charming to come riding in on his great white horse and sweep me off my feet… someday =)