This is the second of a two-part series about Versailles. Part I explores the palace and main gardens.
A Versailles visit naturally evokes images of sprawling gardens, ornately-decorated rooms, and towering walls in a gigantic palace. Why bother see anything else? That’s impressive enough. I couldn’t blame a first-timer for overlooking the other attractions on the massive property, or for choosing to pass them over to focus on the main event.
But I am here to tell you that there are three things you must do during a visit to Versailles, other than the castle and main gardens.
They are to visit the Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon (Marie-Antoinette’s estate), and their gardens.
My Story of Discovery
We were staying with friends in Paris who told us that their favorite part about Versailles was not Versailles itself – it was the gardens around the queen’s estate. I thought, “ok, there’s a cute cottage somewhere on the property that we should take a look at,” but that was as much consideration as I gave it.
They also warned us that it was a 20-minute walk from the main palace. I can understand how this could be a deterrent for those visitors who have already had a long day of walking the palace and gardens.
But, I urge you, power through the pain. It is worth it.
We were those tourists whose feet were killing us after an already long day of touring. But the Grand Trianon was recommended to us, so we figured we’d make the trek and stop by.
After a number of long, gravelly, tree-lined paths, we came upon a large structure at the end of yet another long, gravelly, tree-lined path. It was labeled a palace, but I was unimpressed. After seeing Versailles, my first impression was that this was an unremarkable, stubby, stone-colored structure probably lacking any real interest.
But as we got closer and my eyes were opened to the beauty of the palace.
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 marble. The architecture and gardens were a feast for my eyes.
A Wee Bit of History (more information can be found on the official Versailles website)
I find it funny that Louis XIV, who built the Château de Versailles, had the Grand Trianon built as a retreat of sorts from the formality of the main palace. Well, which is it Your Highness? Do you want the grand castle that you built or the modest garden palace?
I assume his response would be, “Why choose when you can have both?”
You win again, Lou. You always do.
He and his mistress, Madame de Montespan, spent their time here away from the castle.
“I wonder where they are?!” asks a member of Louis XIV’s court.
“Could they be at the separate palace that he built specifically for his mistress?” posed another.
Not exactly discreet cover for your affair. But if you’re king, I guess you don’t care.
Napoleon Bonaparte also stayed at the “Marble Trianon” during his reign as emperor. He performed an initial restoration on it.
Finally, Charles de Gaulle oversaw the most recent restoration in 1963, when it was appointed as a guesthouse for presidents of France. An exhibit currently running in the Grand Trianon takes visitors through the full restoration and events held at the palace after its reopening.
Inside, the details were far more simple and delicate than their neighbors at the main palace. 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.
The gardens at 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 floral fragrance surrounding the palace remains strong. Apparently, guests of the royal family found it 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
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 was not even 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. We only had time to visit the Petit Trianon itself, and not the Queen’s Hamlet, which she also occupied. The Petit Trianon was striking in its modesty, especially in comparison to the main palace and the Grand Trianon.
Our feet couldn’t take any more walking after touring the Petit Trianon. We began to head back toward the main palace, with dreams of exploring more of the gardens in the future.
So, are you convinced yet that the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon are must-sees at Versailles? I would love to hear what you think in the comments.
Things To Know
- The Grand Trianon and Petit 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. When we went it was €4 per person to ride.
- There are cafés and restrooms a short distance away, so you won’t be completely abandoned out there (and I do believe the Grand Trianon has restrooms).
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