“There are many people at Versailles today” – Marie Antoinette to Madame du Barry
(Side note before I begin: remember when I wrote about the Visitors to Versailles exhibit at the Met?! This felt like a full circle moment!)
Over the weekend, I had the great opportunity to visit a friend who has made the suburb of Versailles, France their new home. On my little weekend out of Italy, I took full advantage of seeing one of the most famous and opulent former royal residences in the world! This was actually my second time visiting the magnificent construction that is the Château de Versailles, my first time having been three years ago. Both visits were wonderful in their own way, but so very different!
During the first visit, I was living in London and popped over to Paris for a few days to meet my godmother and her two best friends while they were visiting the city. One afternoon, we opted to visit the Château and had a guided tour of the Private Apartments of the Kings. That tour was incredible, it was a small group led by a docent, and I would recommend anyone reserve a slot! After the private tour was finished, we were let out of a side door into the State Rooms on display, but were met by the masses of visitors that were there midday. All I can remember from that experience was thinking was how stunning everything was, but had the feeling that I couldn’t enjoy my surroundings as much as I would have wanted because of the crowds.
Ultimately, I am grateful for that experience because on this visit, I knew I wanted to experience the palace while it was still relatively quiet, and knew that I could only have that by going first thing in the morning. If there is only one piece of advice that I can give to you for when you visit the palace, it would be to PRE BOOK your ticket for timed entry for 9 am. The early morning will be ultimately worth it when you are let in first, and have minimally-crowded rooms. To book timed entry, click this link and scroll down, then select your date and time of visit.
The main gates to the property and gardens open at 8 am, which was the time that I arrived to take advantage of the “calm before the storm” so to speak, of visitors that come later in the morning. The palace opens at 9 am, which is the time slot I reserved my entrance for. It was an absolutely picture-perfect morning; a cool 70-ish degrees, sunny, and golden. The few people that were there at that hour made it possible for the wonderful photos I was able to capture with my handy-dandy tripod, which I set up for some solo shots.
After my mini-photo session in front of the gates, I snuck around the back for some quick snaps in front of the sprawling gardens. On my last visit, I had the opportunity to go through the gardens pretty thoroughly, so I didn’t feel the need to go again on this visit (plus I don’t think my feet would have forgiven me doing all of that walking in my espadrilles!). After a quick view of the gardens, I hoped on the queue around 8:45 for timed entry for 9 (which was already about 50 people long, which was short compared to the queue for guests who hadn’t pre-booked, which had what seemed like hundreds of people in line!).
There is SO MUCH history to Versailles it’s incredible! From the beginning to the end of your visit, the galleries take you through the history and uses of the palace from the early 17th century to the mid-19th century, and into today. In a brief overview: in 1607 the young Dauphin that would be King Louis XIII, first came to the town of Versailles for a hunting trip where he discovered expansive woods that were filled with game. In 1623, the king had a small hunting lodge built as a retreat from the city. Almost ten years later, the king decided to reconstruct the original lodge onto the spot where the palace is today.
It wasn’t until his son, Louis XIV, was King of France that the palace as we know it began to take shape. Over many years, Versailles gradually transitioned from being a hunting lodge, to more frequently hosting grand parties. Then from 1682, and after some considerable expansions, the “Sun King” made Versailles the main seat of government and French Court. There is so much history to Versailles, I can’t possibly include everything in this article, but you can read a great history of the palace here!
Once you arrive inside, you have the option to take an audio guide that are available for rental, which I always recommend getting! There is so much history, art, royalty, architecture, and context to learn about Versailles! I had my small wide angle lens for my phone, which allowed me to take some amazing shots of the unbelievable State Rooms that are on view.
After going though each of the impossibly ornate, gilded, and decorated rooms, I arrived into the famous Hall of Mirrors. I was so bowled over by the size and unfathomable opulence that is incorporated into every single inch of this space. The Hall is 73 meters long (over 230 feet!!!!) and the paintings and decorations fittingly portray the political, economic, and artistic successes of France throughout history. The mirrors that line the left side of the room are actually 357 smaller mirrors, framed together to create 17 “arches” that oppose each window. This was done because back in the 1700’s, the tools and knowledge to make large-scale pieces of glass didn’t exist! These mirrors were an incredible demonstration that the new French manufacturer could rival the monopoly the Venetian’s had on mirror manufacturing in Europe. You can read more about the Hall of Mirrors in a great article from the Versailles’ website here!
After The Hall of Mirrors, there are even more state rooms to go through, including the monumental space of the Historic Galleries, a museum dedicated to all of the glories of France, that was inaugurated in 1837 by Louis-Philippe, King of the French. After my hour and a half visit, I ended my time with a coffee and the famous Mont Blanc from Café Angelina.
When I was planning my trip to the city of Versailles, I was a bit on the fence about deciding if I should visit the palace again, but I am so glad I did! Enjoying the palace at a more quiet time was a truly incredible experience, so based on that I would have to say that this was my preferred visit. Even though this was a solo visit, I thoroughly enjoyed my time and got some amazing photos from my tripod and from the kind strangers I met during my visit!
Have you been to Versailles yet?!
(Side note of trivia: Versailles is titled a Chateau and not a palace because is it outside of the city! Palaces are always located inside of the city!)
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