Marie Antoinette

Daydream Destination: Versailles

One of the main reasons I wanted to do this blog was to talk about travel in a way that went beyond what you might normally find in most travel books. Don't get me wrong, I think travel books are an indispensable tool for research, planning, and building excitement about your destination. They're just one tool, however, and sometimes it's more fun to explore what you would like to see beyond the "greatest hits" usually offered in them. Since planning is half the fun of travel for me, I'm going to attempt to relieve my wanderlust by posting about destinations I love. Sometimes they will be places I've been, sometimes they will be places I want to go, and sometimes I might plan out a little trip. Who knows? Maybe someone out there will get something out of it.

I thought a perfect first post would be on Versailles. Most of the books I read and the people I asked said to skip Versailles because there's so much more to see in Paris. True. There is so much more to see in Paris, but I really, really, really, really wanted to see Versailles. So there. Neener neener. I had a historical itch to scratch, okay? My parents humored me and off we went.

After two full day visits, here's my take on Versailles. The big palace bits? Not the best part. Yes, it is stunningly beautiful and full of history, but it is often crowded and not very well presented, in my opinion. The first day we went, it was hot and everyone was crammed into rooms like sardines and tour guides were causing major pile ups with their ugly flags sticking up into the air. The audio guide was also a bit underwhelming--it mentioned nothing of people peeing in the corners and stairwells during the palace's heyday or the direct passageway between the king and queen's rooms that allowed for discreet late night visits. There are so many interesting tidbits of information that could go with the drier facts and help bring the place alive.

So here's what I recommend: If you're interested, absolutely go to Versailles. Get a Paris Museum Pass! This helps you skip the insane ticket line and gets you into the palace, the grounds, the Petit Trianon and Grand Trianon. You can also use it for most of the major museums in Paris. It is usually worth the price, depending on how many museums you want to see and ticket costs at each place.

Plan on making it a full day. Get on the train early so you have lots of time. You will need it. It's quite easy. There are great in-depth directions here.

Once there, it's easy to find the palace, there is usually a nice sized crowd to follow. Be on the lookout for the brown signs pointing to the palace. It is about a 5 to 10 minute walk. Then you'll stumble upon this:

Gleefully skip the long ticket line and pat yourself on the back for your amazing foresight. Once inside the palace, as you walk through, if you're liking what you're seeing, slow down, linger, and enjoy. If not, then you can move a little quicker because, for me at least, the real treasure of Versailles is outside at the Petit Trianon and the Hameau.

I can, without a doubt, say the Petite Trianon/Hameau estate is one of my favorite places I've ever been. This estate was basically created to allow Marie-Antoinette to leave behind the formality of the main palace and relax in a Rousseauian pastoral playground. It still feels that way today since it seems like fewer people make their way over.

After taking a wander through the Petit Trianon head out toward the Hameau. Take your time and explore. There are paths that meander all over, slowly revealing the wonders of this place: a Temple of Love, a grotto, fragrant pink roses. . .I won't give everything away. Eventually you will get to the Hameau.

The Hameau is an English-style hamlet and working farm. Marie-Antoinette would dress down and play pastoral shepherdess. It probably wasn't the best idea for an already controversial queen in a tumultuous time to be playing peasant in what is essentially an 18th-century theme park, but that's part of what makes it a such an interesting place. Besides, even if you could not care less about history, it is beautiful.

The Hameau also still grows cool fruits, vegetables, plants and has animals. When I was there last I watched donkeys having an argument, a bossy goose, sleeping rabbits, baby chicks, and the funniest, hungriest, noisiest pig (or was that just me after not eating soon enough?).

So there you have it. My daydream destination at Versailles. There are a bunch of other things to see and do on the grounds that you could also explore, like paddling the Grand Canal, riding bikes, and visiting the Grand Trianon that Napoleon renovated. But for me, the Petit Trianon and the Hameau are a little bit of paradise outside of the city.