Vignette Guide

Versailles: Dull and Ungrateful?


Today I've been working on the Vignette Guide: Versailles a bit and wanted to share one of my favorite vignettes. The whole idea for the guide is that you can read a little or as much as you would like, so each room or part of the tour will have a section of fast facts and a fun vignette or ancedote that somehow relates to the room and helps bring it to life.  

This vignette is the first of the tour and serves as a something of an introduction. 

“Dull” and “ungrateful” are not the words you normally hear associated with Versailles. 

Before it became the magnificent building you see today, the palace began as a relatively small hunting lodge. Although it was worthy of being the king’s hunting lodge, the original plot of land was no place for a court. It was a mixture of swamp and sand. The water was stagnant and unhealthy, which often made workers sick throughout the years of construction.

None of this mattered to Louis XIV. He was The Sun King, after all, and this was his chosen land. It was tamed and moulded to fit his desires, whatever the cost and in spite of anyone else’s opinion. 

As The Duc de Saint-Simon wrote in The Memoirs of Louis XIV, His Court, and the Regency :

[. . .]nobody ever approached his magnificence. His buildings, who could number them? At the same time, who was there who did not deplore the pride, the caprice, the bad taste seen in them?[. . .]Saint-Germain, a lovely spot, with a marvelous view, rich forest, terraces, gardens, and water he abandoned for Versailles; the dullest and most ungrateful of all places, without prospect, without wood, without water, without soil; for the ground is all shifting sand or swamp, the air accordingly bad but he liked to subjugate nature by art and treasure.⁠1 

So the will of a king as powerful as the sun created this magnificence at the great cost of money and time, yes, but also of lives. 

 Louis de Rouvroy, Duc de Saint-Simon, Memoirs of Louis XIV, His Court and the Regency, accessed November 17, 2014,

I love this vignette for a couple of reasons. Saint-Simon was not afraid to lampoon the king (or anyone else for that matter) and I love that he pulls back the mask of the  Versailles. I also love it because I think it helps set the stage for understanding just how powerful Louis XIV was and just how unpleasant Versailles could be. Louis XIV not only built one of the most magnificent palaces in history from what many thought was nothing, but he forced his entire court to move there. He took them out of the comfort and bustle of Paris to live in his vision, literally and figuratively. That vision was not always pretty or comfortable for them. 

Getting Inspired

I sat down to my computer this morning and took a moment to look back at the last month. It was a big, shiny, happy, and full month.

I finally had some time to sit down and really tackle the Versailles guide with extra tenacity. That means the second rough draft is done and I've sent it off to some test readers! I'm pretty excited that the light is at the end of the tunnel now. I want to get this out into the world and share a new way to take a tour.

I also finished my first post for the "Get Inspired" section of the website. It's all about the charming Côte d'Azur town of Villefranche-sur-Mer. There are pictures, restaurant reviews, recommendations for things to do, where to stay, and how to get there--the things that hopefully spark your imagination and get you fired up maybe taking a trip (there or anywhere). We're swinging into the height of travel season, after-all!

This is just the beginning for the Get Inspired section. I have more towns, villages, and cities--most of them in France and Italy--already planned so stay tuned! 

And finally, my personal life got a bit more exciting. I got engaged in May and we've jumped into wedding planning with joy and gusto and, well, sticker shock! What that also means is that I've started daydreaming about honeymoon destinations. Italy? France? Spain? The Galapagos? Costa Rica? Iceland? There are so many incredible places we could go. So we're dreaming big dreams right now and planning some amazing long and short term adventures. 

So here's to a summer of adventure, yours and mine!

History Love: A Yank in Versailles

Part of my research for the Versailles Vignette Guide is searching for public domain photos and paintings to use as illustrations for each vignette.  I found this photograph a few weeks ago in the Library of Congress online archives and found it too beautiful not to share. There's something about the quiet of it and the juxtaposition between the opulence of the Hall of Mirrors and the soldier's stance.  

I wonder what he was thinking at that moment. I wonder what he had gone through before he got to Versailles.

The summary states:

Pvt. Gordon Conrey of Milford, N.H., one of the first Americans to visit Versailles after its liberation, standing in the hall of mirrors.

If I find more interesting photos that don't make it into the guides, I'll be sure to post them.