I have teased a couple of pictures from my trek out to Versaille and I thought it was finally time to dump a bunch of them on you. Bear in mind that this was before I upgraded to a phone with a good camera so I’ve done my best to capture the splendor, but it’s absolutely not going to do it justice.
Getting to Versaille from Paris was far less of an ordeal than I thought it would be. Everyone told me that Versaille would have to be an overnight trip. While I do agree that you might want more time to fully explore the whole palace complex, the gardens, and the little town around Versaille, I did it as a day trip and it worked out just fine. I was staying in Choisy le Roi (just southeast of the city proper) with some friends and made the train connections easily from there. Being already south probably helped make it quick and easy, but from anywhere in Paris it should be manageable.
Near the end of the RER line C going out of Paris, the stop is Rive gauche/Chateau de Versailles. When arriving at the station, I wasn’t sure which direction to go to find the palace. I just followed the people, nearly everyone getting off the train was heading for the same place. Plus, there are signs and shops that will also help point you in the right direction.
There are ticket agents and tourism shops all around the station area. I just simply walked into one and secured my ticket, then I continued to the palace, which became visible very quickly. When you enter Versailles security checks you bag in a manner similar to TSA. I got in trouble for having a banana in my bag. (It was a full day excursion, of course I packed snacks.) For an anxious moment I thought I was going to have my cling-wrapped banana confiscated. The guard thought it was funny– and I believe showed excellent forethought to have wrapped it, so he told me, “Uh… just don’t eat it inside the palace.” I nodded, “That’s very fair.” And I was on my way.
Since it was February, the garden was nowhere near its full splendor. Many of the statues were wrapped, the fountains weren’t running, and nothing was in bloom. It sounds very disappointing, but actually it still gave me a fine look at the bones of the garden. An almost architectural viewpoint of the hedges and pathways. The weather was mild so I could enjoy roaming about.
There is still a meadow of sheep, a throw back to Marie Antoinette and her dreams of pastoral life. There are areas particularly set aside for picnicking families, though few were out at that time of year.
Of course the inside is sumptuous. The size is imposing and the amount of detail and design is a little overwhelming. There are just so many things to look at that it can be hard for the eye to focus. In some ways, I enjoyed the grounds better than the interior of the palace. Partly because it was less garish outside, but mainly because it was less stuffed with people. I can only imagine how unbearably crowded it would be at the peak of summer holidays. Traveling in the off-season does help mitigate a lot of that, but can’t eliminate it completely.
Of course, Versailles is a huge tourist attraction. You can get audio guides in several different languages and you can arrange guided tours as well. There are several food options, but as with most tourist areas, the food is overpriced. You’re better off sneaking in a banana. However, the gift shop is actually worth a look. Teas, historically styled home accessories, books, and trinkets fill the shelves and are beyond your average museum shop knick-knacks.
Versailles is one of those places that gets quite a lot of hype. I think it’s second only to the Eiffel Tower as a tourist destination in France. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing. Versailles is definitely famous for a reason. The stunning amount of detail inside matched with the sprawling grounds outside does make it a worthwhile jaunt from Paris. If you are interested in art, architecture, or even in history and politics– Versailles makes a very interesting point of study.
My advice? Plan ahead, go on a weekday, pack some snacks. And don’t forget to look up. It’s always worthwhile to look up in Versailles. The ceilings are home to moldings, gilded trims, and intricate paintings.