The Palace of Versailles is about a 25 minute train ride on the RER line. It is a great part of French history along with the majority of monuments within Paris. It began as a hunting lodge during the Bourbon dynasty that ruled France during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was transformed by Louis XIV, ‘the Sun King’ into a fabulous palace housing all of the French courtiers when he
moved the entire court from Paris to outlying Versailles. The Palace, though massive itself, has grounds that span a now national park making it the largest palace in the world. The beautifully manicured and well maintained gardens boast large fountains that still run on certain days, a Grand Canal and gorgeous greenery and flowers at every sight. Outside of the main palace the property has 2 smaller chateaux; the Grand and Petit Trianon which had several different purposes throughout their history: a family home, house of the mistresses, home to spinster sisters of kings that never married and even Napoleon’s office during his reign. There is also the Queen’s Hamlet, quite ironically, where Marie Antoinette played farm girl while the rest of her kingdom starved and eventually rebelled against the monarchy. While the Palace is full of splendor; hand-crafted marble ceilings, ornate tapestries, many precious metals and the long ‘Hall of Mirrors’ that fascinates people from all over the world, the majority of what you see today is thanks to careful restoration and a collection of works gathered from all over France.
While a tour of the Palace is definitely recommended, an entire day can be spent wandering the winding and spanning paths of the gardens. The atmosphere is a calming sense compared to the city, and while it is very popular, there is always a quiet place to get away from the other visitors. You can rent a boat on the Grand Canal, find a quiet bench, rent bikes or Segway’s or just enjoy a nice day with spectacular surroundings. They have a café serving beer, wine, coffee and sandwiches and the entrance fees are relatively inexpensive. While morning visitors may find the palace more crowded, I suggest a visit to the gardens first and seeing the castle second. This way, you can almost wander the halls as if you are the only person there. And, if you visit on a weekday you are more likely to find peace and quiet. Certain days of the week the fountains will run and music is played invisibly from speakers hidden in shrubs creating a regal feel, but these days tend to bring more sight-seers with them, so plan accordingly.