With only three precious nights in Paris, I hadn’t originally planned on visiting Versailles on my first trip to France. After my impromptu ramble through the Bois de Boulogne, however, I felt an urge to wander another vast park with various areas to explore. So the grounds and gardens of Versailles catapulted to the top of my list, and I managed a six hour visit on a Sunday afternoon; having completed my travels, I can safely say it was one of the most memorable afternoons I experienced.
A beautiful view of the château, taken from the edge of the Grand Canal and the Apollo Fountain in the foreground
I chose to bring a picnic lunch and immediately enter the gardens of Versailles, bypassing the château until later in the afternoon. Thirty minutes were spent eating on the Grand Canal, watching boaters, ducks, and tourists enjoy the beautiful day on the water.
Mallard ducks, supremely unconcerned by the plentiful visitors, swim in the Grand Canal and preen for breadcrumbs
With fuel in stomach, I set a course to full explore the grounds and gardens of Versailles, knowing I am in for a three to four hour walk around the premises. A bike tour here would be brilliant, but the day is so gorgeous I’m fine with being on foot. First stop is the Petit Trianon and Hameau de la Reine, the palace and hamlet that were used by Marie-Antoinette exclusively during her reign as Queen of France. For her, it was a refuge from the court in the main palace of Versailles; for modern day tourists, it’s an escape from the hordes winding their way through the château.
The Petit Trianon and Hameau de la Reine are wonderful sights on the grounds, with far less concentrated numbers of fellow tourists
From Petit Trianon, I ambled about on the various paths through the gardens, past the Belvedere and The French Pavilion into the more wooded areas. Aside from the few tourists encountered, it was a quiet, secluded walk in contrast to the more congested main paths used by the bikers and small train zipping visitors about.
The grounds and gardens of Versailles are best explored through languid walks, taking in the natural splendor between the main sights
The Grand Trianon is equally enticing, with its pinkish red marble quarried from Languedoc drawing the eye (and the camera) to its myriad columns and graceful courtyards and gardens. This was a refuge for Louis XIV and his mistress, and the palace has all of the grandeur of the main château, but was far from the prying eyes and formal etiquette of the court of Versailles.
A pink-shirted tourist coordinates well with the pink marble and pink, purple and red flowers of the Grand Trianon
Back walking along the Grand Canal and into more of the gardens of Versailles, I’m struck by so many visions of beauty: the beautiful amphitheater of the Rocaille Grove, the intricate details of the Orangerie, the white marble statues lining the Tapis Vert. There are more visitors milling about in this section nearest the palace, but the fantastic landscaping is overwhelming and enough for all to share.
Marble statues of Greco-Roman influence, including the series of Seasons statues, line the Tapis Vert that extends between the two major fountains of the gardens.
Even on an offseason visit, Versailles was very crowded and full of fellow tourists. The gardens of Versailles are worth the price of admission, and my most hearty recommendation would be to come with lunch and plenty of water, and take time to get lost, discover beautiful sights, and while away most of the hours in the splendid grounds encompassing the palace, then turn your attention to the interiors of the château.
One last look at the shimmering Grand Canal, viewed from the Grand Trianon.