Friday, 1 November 2013

Versailles day trip

Potager du Roi

I have childhood recollections of visiting Versailles with my parents. I remember walking from the car to Versailles and standing in the gardens, but very little else.

On Wednesday we took the train from central Paris out to Versailles. In addition to the main palace we wanted to visit the potager du Roi or Royal kitchen garden.

On leaving the station we checked a large map and I confidently walked us down what I thought was the right road. Just as I was thinking the buildings around the garden were remarkably grand I realised that we'd ended up at the palace and not the potager. Not to be deterred we checked another map outside the palace and headed off down a side road.

We missed the potager yet again and ended up at the d'Eau des Suisses. A picturesque man made lake, but it wasn't what we are looking for. We were moments from giving up on our search when we spied the back wall of the potager and started to follow the outside wall in search of the entrance.

The entrance we did find was closed. We decided to have lunch sitting in the Park Balbi next to the potager enjoying some of the afternoon sun. On our way back to the palace we walked past the entrance which had finally opened up and we were in!

All of the fruit and vegetables had been harvested and the garden was going into hibernation for winter, but it was nice to have a drift around and have the place virtually to ourselves.

Formal gardens
We arrived at Versailles around 2pm and decided to head straight for the garden to enjoy them while it was still daylight and there was some warmth in the sun.

The gardens close to the house were full or crowds, but as we got further away from the chateau it thankfully thinned out. We started in the Grand Trianon built by Louis XIV to escape the formalities of court in the main palace. The Kings of France must have had some serious cash to build such an opulent place just down the road from the main palace.

The Queen's hamlet
After the Grand Trianon we walked across to the Petit Trianon. Another house built for a mistress!

In the grounds of the Petit Trianon is a beautiful English garden (essentially not formally laid out) and the slightly bizarre Hameau de la Reine. A small model hamlet with a nearby farm built for Mary Antoinette to hang out with her friends.

Autumn colours
We drifted back up to the main palace along the outside of the gardens. It was a masterstroke to save it until last. Not only did we get to enjoy gardens in the daylight with the warmth of the late October sunshine, but all of the tourists had started to leave for the day.

It would be an exaggeration to say that we had the palace to ourselves, but there were probably never more than 15 - 20 other people in a room. No hardship when a palace is built on the scale of Versailles and probably the best you could ever hope for in such a major tourist destination.
Becks outside the front of Versailles
After the palace we caught the train back into central Paris. After a slightly shaky start we had a lovely day. The whole complex had the feeling of getting ready for winter with the garden statues being covered up and some of the rooms in the Trainons already closed. I think we timed our visit just right.

Versailles at night

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