On my last day in France, I figured that there was no better way to end my Parisian spree than wandering all 800 hectares of the most beautiful palace in France, Château de Versailles.
My morning began on a stressful note. I had just said goodbye to my boyfriend who was returning home to Australia for work and was on my way to the St Michel railway station to catch the RER C line to Versailles. I set out bright and early to avoid the crowds, but upon arrival at the station I was met with locked doors. The RER C line was closed for the day due to emergency maintenance! Trying to figure out my next move, I found a taxi and it was going to cost me 35 euros one way, which was probably way too much, but I agreed in a fluster to avoid trying to negotiate in French. He was a nice man and it was a comfortable journey until problème nombre deux arose when we arrived at the palace – the driver didn’t have any change for my 50 euro note. He assured me that if I paid him 50 euro now, he would pick me up and return me to Paris later on. He handed me his card and I reluctantly paid him, feeling pretty certain that I would never see his face again.
This was my third trip to Versailles, so after battling the ridiculous crowds inside the main palace for an hour, I bee-lined for Le Petit Trianon, the private estate of Marie Antoinette. She may have been a frivolous & negligent queen, but I have always been fascinated by the splendour and luxury of her royal life at Versailles. I spent the most lovely day wandering around the beautiful grounds and exploring the idyllic hamlet she had made especially for her own pleasure.
Marie Antoinette’s estate does not open until noon, so I had some time to wander the gardens enroute. I had pre-booked my ticket online, but the line to get inside the palace still took over an hour. I found the experience of the palace rather claustrophobic and uncomfortable, but managed to elbow my way out of there alive.
The gardens were much more tranquil and the musical fountains show was playing. On specific days between April and October you can explore the fountains and groves with their water features playing to the rhythm of beautiful classical music. It was the perfect place to recompose myself after the zombie apocalypse I had just survived in the main palace. I really loved taking my time to look around, it was a stunning sunny day with a bright cloudless sky. After an hour looking around the gardens I bought a baguette roughly the size of my head and some Ladureé macarons, then set off to find a quiet and picturesque spot for a picnic lunch.
I purchased a Passport ticket, which allowed me access to the whole estate – including the palace with an audio guide, the estate of Trianon, the temporary exhibitions, the gardens, the musical fountains show, and the coach gallery. It cost around €25 for this ticket, but if you are a first time visitor, you are not likely to fit everything into one day and might be better off buying the standard palace ticket. On my first visit, I spent the whole day inside the palace.
On my past trips, I never had enough time to see the Trianon Estate, which is located quite a distance from the main palace. It took me about 20 minutes to walk there through the gardens. The complex is made up of the the Grand Trianon Palace, the Petit Trianon Palaces, the Queen’s Hamlet, and a variety of beautiful ornamental gardens. Marie Antoinette spent most of her time in her sanctuary of the Petit Trianon, and she splashed around plenty of money to tailor the complex to her tastes.
Le Petit Trianon was originally built by King Louis XV between 1762 – 1768 to accommodate his long term mistresses, Madame de Pompadour, and following her death, Madame du Barry. When King Louis XVI ascended the throne, Le Petit Trianon was gifted to the 19 year old Queen Marie Antoinette for her exclusive use. Love her or hate her, you cannot deny that she lived her (rather short) life exactly as she pleased, without any desire to actually lead the country or rule her people.
Marie Antoinette’s private apartments are situated amongst acres of flowers, green fields, trees, blooming lilacs & her very own English Hamlet filled with baby goats, lambs, cows, chickens, white peacocks, and a lake. She even had a private theatre to watch live performances, and a temple dedicated to the Goddess of Love. Marie Antoinette hosted many opulent parties with her fashionable Parisian friends, living an isolated life of freedom from the pressures of the main palace.
I found the Palace of Versailles to be way too chaotic and overcrowded with people, so I naturally felt more comfortable in the tranquil oasis of Le Petit Trianon. I could definitely see why Marie Antoinette preferred the quiet country charms of her own private estate over the pandemonium of court life.
As we know, all good things must come to an end. Marie Antoinette was not able to enjoy the pleasures of Le Petit Trianon for long. Marie Antoinette was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution, and after the abolition of the monarchy she was executed by the guillotine in 1793 at the tender age of 37.
Marie Antoinette certainly left her mark as one of the most memorable historical characters, and is now renowned for her luxurious tastes, her bouffant hair, and her absolute disinterest in serving her people. There is a long held rumour that Marie Antoinette is said to have proclaimed “let them eat cake” after being told that the peasants were starving due to a bread shortage. Whether this is true or not, after wandering Le Petit Trianon for a couple of hours, it became quite clear that Marie Antoinette was rather detached from the real world and it is not surprising that she is remembered as a symbol of excess and indulgence.
On my way out, I fumbled through my bag for the taxi drivers card, and decided to see if I had been scammed out of 50 euro. Lo and behold, his cute french accent picked up the phone and ten minutes later he was at the front gate waiting for me with a bottle of cold water. My faith in humanity was restored! Being a Queen seemed like a lot of bother and I was happy to return to my apartment for a long sleep and some leftover macarons for dinner.