Tag: France

What to See at Versailles Besides Versailles – Petit Trianon

Petit Trianon grand salon

The Palace of Versailles offers much more to explore than just one ornately decorated chateau. If you go, be sure to leave yourself enough time to visit the other sites on the property. One fine example is the Petit Trianon. It’s a modest little home, at least by Versailles standards.

Petit Trianon

The Petit Trianon was built between 1762 and 1768, under King Louis XV’s reign. Architect Anges-Jacques Gabriel designed the Petit Trianon in the Neoclassical style, which was popular at the time. Each of the four limestone facades are different, with Corinthian columns and other elements reflective of ancient Greek influence.

King Louis XV had the Petit Trianon built for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. Unfortunately she passed away before the chateaus’ completion. Her successor, Madame du Barry inaugurated the chateau in 1769 and took up residence here. When Louis XV died, the crown transferred to his grandson, Louis XVI. In 1774, young King Louis offered the Petit Trianon to his 19-year-old wife, the one and only Marie-Antoinette.

The grand staircase is the highlight of the main entrance:

The main entry and staircase of the Petit Trianon

The main entry and staircase of the Petit Trianon

Several rooms in the chateau have beautiful green and white marble tiled floors. White and pale green colours dominate throughout the house:

green and white marble floor of petit trianon

Marie-Antoinette fell in love with the Petit Trianon and its extensive gardens. The little chateau allowed her to get away from the rigours of court life and live more simply. Below is a photo of the grand salon, or drawing room, where Marie Antoinette entertained her guests with games and music. I could get used to her idea of the “simple life”:

Petit Trianon grand salon

The Queen’s boudoir was an interesting room. Originally this was part of King Louis XV’s private chambers, where he would retreat to be alone with his mistress. A staircase once gave the king private access to the four floors of the house. The landing doors were fitted with locks that could be double-locked, and the king was the only person to have a copy of the key. The staircase was demolished around 1776, when Marie-Antoinette decided she wanted to enlarge her apartment with a boudoir next to the bedchamber.

Marie-Antoinette also had two movable mirrors added to this room. These mirrors could be pulled up from the floor to cover the windows for maximum privacy. The original pulley system has since been lost, but it was replaced with an electric one at the end of the 20th Century. You can see those panels below, partially covering the two windows on either side of the room:

Marie-Antoinette decorated the bedchamber in 1787. It was one of the last rooms at the Petit Trianon that she decorated. In 1789 the government placed the royal family under house arrest at the Tuileries Palace in Paris.

On our way toward the warming kitchen (really the food preparation room), we passed through this nifty tunnel-like passageway:

The fireplace in the warming kitchen:

The kitchen proper was originally beyond the chapel. Servants brought the food to this warming kitchen for the final touches before serving.

Petit Trianon warming kitchen

It was difficult to imagine Marie-Antoinette roaming the halls of this chateau, considering all the stories told about her outrageous spending habits and love of the finer things in life. Even by today’s standards, the Petit Trianon is quite stunning. Yet it seems simple, even austere compared to the extravagance and opulence of Versailles. It’s worth seeing both to compare the two architectural and decorative styles.

What to See at Versailles Besides Versailles -The Queen’s Hamlet

Malborough Tower versailles The Marlborough Tower, once used as an observatory and the starting point for boat rides around the lake.

The Palace of Versailles in France is one of the most popular tourist sites in the country. It’s also overcrowded, and in my opinion, a bit over-hyped. That’s not to say that it isn’t worth visiting. It’s pretty impressive by anyone’s standards. But if you hate crowds and being jostled by throngs of strangers, Versailles might be more frustrating than awe-inspiring. Luckily, you can still visit Versailles and manage to have an enjoyable, even relaxing day. You just need to be willing to go for a short stroll away from the main palace.

After our tour of the Palace of Versailles, my hubby and I opened up our site map and aimed for the Petit Trianon. This was Marie Antoinette’s favourite little getaway from the rigors and responsibilities of palace life. But we were quickly sidetracked when we came upon a smattering of rustic medieval-looking buildings. This was the Hameau de la Reine, or Queen’s Hamlet.

Queen's Hamlet

Marie Antoinette ordered the construction of the hamlet in 1783. She had a great love and fascination for the country life, and these buildings certainly reflect that. The hamlet, built in the Norman style between 1783 and 1787, included eleven houses and a farm, which provided food for the palace.

Queen's hamlet house

The Mill, where grain was ground for use in the palace kitchen.

It didn’t appear as though any of these buildings were open to the public, however there were a few that were undergoing restoration. The most obvious and dramatic restoration was happening with a large building known as the “Queen’s House”:

Queens House

Needless to say, the house was abandoned after the French Revolution and fell into disrepair. The Queen’s House and surrounding buildings are currently being restored to their original architectural styles. This includes any additions from the First Empire and Restoration periods. The interiors are also being restored to their First Empire glory.

There was a wonderful display detailing the work being done, along with a picture of what the Queen’s House looks like underneath all the scaffolding. The house is actually two separate buildings that are joined by a wooden gallery. The fashion house Dior is sponsoring the restoration work.

Queen's House

Most of the gardens in the Queen’s Hamlet are still true to their original layouts from the 18th Century, though. In fact, the hamlet gardens included fruit trees, vineyards and vegetable gardens:

Queen's hamlet house

Honestly, the buildings here don’t feel real. It’s almost like being on a movie set. It’s easy to see why Marie Antoinette loved this place so much.

The Marlborough Tower, once used as an observatory and the starting point for boat rides around the lake.

The Marlborough Tower, once used as an observatory and the starting point for boat rides around the lake.

The best part of the Queen’s Hamlet, though, is the actual farm itself. It’s gorgeous!

queens hamlet farm

There’s livestock galore here, including pot-bellied pigs, chickens, ducks, and sheep. Back in Marie Antoinette’s day, the livestock was imported from Switzerland as per her orders.

livestock at queens hamlet

Things really livened up during our visit when a weasel got into the hen house. We watched with great amusement as staff chased the little guy around with a tupperware tote trying to trap it! They weren’t having much luck while we were there. These little suckers are wily:

weasel at Queens hamlet

Marie Antoinette’s love of “simple country living” got her into some trouble, though. She would dress as a peasant, milking the cows and effectively playing the part of a poor shepherdess, while still being surrounded by luxury and splendour. The local French people already didn’t appreciate her wild spending habits during hard economic times. And her choices of pastimes at the hamlet seemingly mocked peasant life, which only added to their animosity. This growing resentment was one of the factors that eventually led to the French Revolution in 1789.