Travel Diary Versailles: An Afternoon at the Trianon, and Evening in the Gardens
In a rare instance of planning ahead, we had bought tickets to see the evening fountain show at Versailles on our third night in Paris. Since the fireworks ended, at 11pm we thought it might be better stay out there instead of dealing with a late night train or car service back into the city. We couldn't have picked a better place. Our hotel, the Waldorf Astoria Trianon was conveniently located just outside the gates to the Parc.
Arriving early in the afternoon, the concierge recommended touring Versailles in reverse, beginning at the Trianon and going through the chateau after 4:30 pm when the majority of bus tours would have departed as a way to avoid the worst of the crowds. Soon we were walking down the road towards let Petit Trianon, most famously known as Marie Antoinette's private getaway
I enjoyed this alternate route, which allowed me to focus on the Trianons with fresh eyes (by the time a visitor usually reaches them at the end of the day, they can be worn down by the relentless splendor of what they have previously seen in the main chateau). For Brendan however, it might have been slightly disadvantageous, for it is harder to appreciate the roles the Trianons played as retreats from the pomp and rigid etiquette of court life unless you have first experienced the immense scale and scope of the chateau.
As my last visit to Versailles was well before the most recent 2008 restoration, it was a delight to see the interior rooms of the Petit Trianon now furnished much as they would have in Marie Antoinette ‘s day.
Walking towards le hameau through the English Gardens, we passed the belvedere, grotto and temple of love.
Their impeccable condition contrasted with the plantings, which seemed a bit ragged around the edges. This might have been due to the fact that the hameau itself is in the midst a major restoration. Perhaps the English garden will be next. It also served to remind me that for most of its history, parts of Versailles were in a perpetual state of repair or disrepair, or construction. Each monarch, consort or mistress focused on their favorite areas, at the expense of others. Even at its peak (when it was draining a good portion the nation's finances) it was virtually impossible to keep every corner of the vast place in pristine condition at the same time.
Despite some buildings still concealed under construction barricades or unrestored, there are enough completed to give a good idea of Marie Antoinette’s distorted EPCOTesque fantasy of what eighteenth-century peasant life was life.
The farm animals scattered here and there (spiritual descendants of those brought in “authenticity”) seemed very happy with their lot in life however.
If the English gardens at the Petit Trianon were a bit neglected, the French gardens that lay on its other side (separating it from the grounds the Grand Trianon) were the polar opposite.
The neat beds, pristinely restored treillage pavillion
and sheared trees were a delight.
Despite the assurances of plenty of available trains and bikes, we ended up hoofing it through the gardens to get to the chateau, reaching it well past our goal of 4:30. Thanks to my choosing the wrong route to the entrance (it takes a long tie to walk around the outside of the palace), we actually didn’t enter until after 5 pm either. It actually worked out fine. Judging from the crowds, at that late hour, we weren’t there any earlier, and we got our fill of splendor at a quick pace.
Although the Queens apartments were closed for restorations, it gave us the opportunity to see the apartments of Mesdames Adelaide et Victoire, which gave an interesting view as to how some of the second tier members of the royal family lived at court.
Exiting the chateau, we walked back through town to the hotel. After a brief rest and bite to eat, we returned back to the main entrance again for the evening spectacle. I can only urge someone who has never been there in the evening to experience it if at all possible. When arrived at twilight was beginning cast a mysterious hue to the buildings and grounds.
As the skies gradually darkened the decorative llights in the gardens took center stage.
Some of the individual fountain shows were timed and others are continuous,
with each groveor fountain having a unique presentation.
While many had a contemporary twist, the lights, music, and shadows all contributed to an oddly period atmosphere. Romantic, vaguely mysterious and festive,
it was easy to imagine oneself at an evening soiree of the ancient regime. The fireworks show, which we watched from the grand terrace, was the perfect culmination of the evening. Accompanied by music, it was duly impressive and a fitting homage to the Sun King who created Versailles.