Mother Nature has been teasing us lately. The weather in Paris has been fluctuating wildly. Two Saturdays ago, we experienced a true Spring day. Gorgeous blue skies filled with the kind of clouds you want to lie in the grass and stare at for hours. The temperatures reached 16C and I took my coat off outside for the first time since I arrived in Paris on October 12th 2012. It was a marvelous day. And given my friends from Dubai and my brother were in town, we continued playing tourist with a day trip to the city of Versailles, home to the famous Château de Versailles that has graced many history books, postcard faces and movies, including the most modern interpretation featuring Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette.
In true French style it is utterly grandiose and oozes luxury in all its intricate details. My favorite room by far was the Hall of Mirrors. It has been said that this room filled with mirrors is a testament to the vain nature of Marie Antoinette and her narcissistic obsession with fashion, beauty and herself. The true story is sadly not as gossip-worthy and states that the Hall of Mirrors was initially a terrace that looked out on the magnificent Versailles gardens. It was decided to close this off to make more use of it and was fitted with mirrors thereby gaining its name. I prefer the first version of the story especially because visions of an arrogant self-obesessed Kirsten Dunst play in my mind thanks to a photoshoot done by Vogue on set around the time the movie was released in 2006.
Today the city of Versailles is considered a wealthy suburb and sits 20km southwest Paris, very easily accessible on the RER C line straight to the stop Versailles – Rive Gauche or Versailles – Rive Droite. Versailles was considered the heart of political power in France between 1682 – when Louis XIV moved to Versailles from Paris – until 1789 – when the royal family was forced to return to the French capital once the French Revolution began. For that reason, this exquisite estate serves not only as a historical monument today but as a symbol of the Ancien Regime or absolute monarchy that once was.
We tried to enjoy the palace tour despite the hoards of tourists making it virtually impossible to admire anything without being bamboozled from all directions. The highlight for me besides the Hall of Mirrors were the gardens. I did not expect to see any greenery in March and that made for a very pleasant surprise. We took a little train around the gardens and discovered a hidden world behind this massively grandiose facade. First of all, they rent bikes so you can cycle around the grounds at your own leisure (and pace). There is also a beautiful lake where you can rent and row boats as well as an outdoor cafe that was absolutely buzzing with people on this gorgeous sunny Saturday. For those who dont know it, the chateau also has a Sound & Light show that runs from June through the summer until September. I definitely plan to go back once the weather gets warmer. Not necessarily to visit the palace but just to enjoy the gardens…maybe picnic in the park, feed the ducks, row a boat and just wander about soaking up all that ethereal French sunshine. Come on Spring time… make me happy!
Versailles is definitely a must do for anyone who hasn’t yet done it. Even for a 2nd timer like myself, it was a refreshing departure from Paris and a vivid step back in time.