A visit to the Palace of Versailles naturally evokes images of sprawling gardens, ornately-decorated rooms, and towering walls in a gigantic palace. With such an impressive main attraction, why bother seeing any of the smaller chateaus on the property?
I couldn’t blame a first time visitor for overlooking Versailles’ other sights, or for choosing to pass them over to focus on the mammoth main palace.
But I’m here to make the case that there are four things you must do during a day at Versailles, other than the castle and main gardens.
They are to visit the sites comprising the estate of Trianon, including the Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon (Marie-Antoinette’s estate), the Queen’s Hamlet, and their surrounding gardens.
Getting to the Estate of Trianon at Versailles
We were staying with friends in Paris who told us that their favorite part about Versailles was not the Palace of Versailles itself – it was the gardens around “the queen’s estate,” or the estate of Trianon.
Unsure of what that was, I figured it must be a nice cottage somewhere on the property that would make for a good picnic or rest spot.
We were warned that the gardens were a 20-minute walk from the main palace, which gave me my first glimpse into how large the property is. The walk wasn’t a deterrent for us, but it may be challenging for anyone who’s tired after spending hours touring Versailles and its gardens.
A tram is available to shuttle visitors around the property (including to and from the estate of Trianon) if you don’t want to walk. It costs €7.50 for multiples rides or €4 for a single ride.
Whatever mode of transportation you choose, I urge you, power through the fatigue. It is worth it.
A Wee Bit of History about the Estate of Trianon
What is the estate of Trianon, you ask?
It’s a series of intimate palaces and gardens that were built over about 100 years primarily as private retreats for France’s kings and their mistresses. It is comprised of the Grand Trianon, the Petit Trianon, the Queen’s Hamlet, and the surrounding gardens.
Louis XIV, who built the Château de Versailles, had the Grand Trianon built in the late 1600s so he could steal away with Madame de Maintenon.
Louis XV completed the Petit Trianon in 1768 as a private place to spend time with his mistress, Comtesse du Barry. Eventually it became the preferred residence of Marie-Antoinette, who was gifted the estate by King XVI and where she famously spent her time.
Marie-Antoinette supervised the transformation of the estate’s grounds into magnificent gardens. She even had a model town dubbed “the Queen’s Hamlet” built on the grounds in the image of rural French villages. The working farm was used in part to educate her children, and she hosted gatherings in the other structures.
Other notable people have stayed on the estate since the fall of the monarchy. Napoleon Bonaparte stayed at the Grand Trianon during his reign as emperor. He performed an initial restoration on it.
Most recently, Charles de Gaulle oversaw a restoration in 1963, when the Grand Trianon was appointed as a guesthouse for presidents of France. An exhibit being displayed in the palace while I was there showed the full restoration and events that were held at the palace after its reopening.
The Grand Trianon at Versailles
After winding through a series of long, gravelly, tree-lined paths, we came upon a drab gray structure that looked like it could be an administrative building from a distance.
But the map showed that we were in the right place, at the Grand Trianon.
I was unimpressed. After seeing Versailles, my first impression was that this was an unremarkable, stubby, stone-colored structure probably lacking any real interest.
Until we stepped closer.
I was immediately taken by the pink marble, which is set off by the light stone walls. The bright green trees in front provide a strong contrast to the soft pink of the stone. I drank up the colors and the balanced symmetry of the palace.
The Interior of the Grand Trianon at Versailles
The Grand Trianon is undoubtedly the most magnificent of the estate of Trianon’s sights, and certainly stretches the definition of what an “intimate” retreat looks like.
Inside the palace, the details were far more simple and delicate than the main Palace of Versailles. Soft whites, calm blues, deep reds and bright yellows filled the many rooms. The palace had a distinctly feminine feel in contrast to Versailles.
The Peristyle, a portico connecting the two sides of the palace and the courtyard to the gardens, is lined with more pink marble, carved ceilings and a black and white tiled floor. It is a lovely balancing architectural feature that is visually pleasing not only for its decorating scheme, but for its symmetry.
The Gardens of the Grand Trianon
The gardens surrounding the Grand Trianon are particularly interesting. Thousands of flowers and citrus trees are placed inside of pots so they can be rearranged every day to create an ever-changing floral showcase and ensure the fresh fragrance surrounding the palace remains strong.
Apparently, some guests of the royal family found the fragrance to be overwhelming and unappealing at the time.
Every room in the palace has a view of the gardens. On the day we went, the gardens were a sea of bright yellow and purple.
The Petit Trianon at Versailles
After a brief rest in the gardens, we reluctantly made our way toward the Petit Trianon. We were dog-tired by that point, but figured we should make an effort to see Marie-Antoinette’s estate before we left.
Though it wasn’t in the same league as the Grand Trianon in terms of impressiveness, the Petit Trianon was significant because of Marie-Antoinette’s preference for it.
It is notably understated and sparsely decorated. My first impression was that the Petit Trianon felt more like a bunker that happened to have velvet curtains.
It is striking in its modesty, especially when compared to the Palace of Versailles and the Grand Trianon.
It speaks to Marie-Antoinette’s desire to be away from the formalities of the Court, in a more rural country setting.
The Queen’s Hamlet and the English Gardens
Our feet couldn’t take any more walking after touring the Petit Trianon, so we didn’t spend time in the Queen’s Hamlet or the English Gardens.
On a subsequent visit I would love to explore these two places that Marie-Antoinette had specially designed.
The Queen’s Theatre, for instance, is the last fully functioning 18th-century theater in France. It featured everything from the French premiere of the Barber of Seville to the amateur performances by her and her friends.
You can imagine the pleasure she must have gotten from constructing and spending time in the Queen’s Hamlet, where she could get a taste of village life on the palace grounds. The rural architecture and tranquil lake evoke feelings of French pastoral life.
The calming English Gardens are perhaps the most well known and celebrated addition Marie-Antoinette made to Versailles. She enlisted Richard Mique (who also built the Queen’s Hamlet) to replace botanical gardens with the open, meandering design you see today.
Though specially landscaped for Marie-Antoinette, the English Gardens appear more natural with only a couple of structures and a distinct lack of beds and manicured hedges like you see across the rest of the estate.
The Final Word
If you’re considering taking a day trip from Paris to visit Versailles, be sure to leave time and energy to explore the estate of Trianon. Or, if you’re able to take a weekend trip to Versailles, you could easily spend an entire day exploring this area of the palace grounds. There is ample room for picnicking so don’t forget to bring some snacks!
Things To Know about the Estate of Trianon
- The sights at the estate of Trianon are included in the Versailles “passport” ticket option, €18 for adults.
- There is a shuttle that can take you from the main palace to the Trianon palaces so you don’t have to walk the whole way.
- There are cafés and restrooms a short distance away, so you won’t be completely abandoned out there.
- You may bring food onto the property for a picnic, but it is not allowed in indoor spaces. Be sure to plan accordingly if you will be bringing food onto the grounds, or purchase food for your picnic at one of the vendors near the estate of Trianon.
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