The Palace of Versailles in France is one of the most popular tourist sites in the country. It’s also very 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, you might find the Palace of Versailles 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.
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The Palace of Versailles offers much more to explore than just one ornately decorated chateau. 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.
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:
Several rooms in the chateau have beautiful green and white marble tiled floors. White and pale green colours dominate throughout the house:
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.
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 had locks that could be double-locked, and the king was the only person with a copy of the key. Marie-Antoinette had the staircase demolished around 1776, as 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 were designed to be pulled up from the floor to cover the windows for maximum privacy. The original pulley system no longer exists. In fact, it was replaced with an electric pulley system 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.
On your way toward the warming kitchen (really the food preparation room), you will pass 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.
In 1789 the government placed the royal family under house arrest at the Tuileries Palace in Paris. After an attack on the Tuileries in 1792, the royal family moved to the Legislative Assembly. They were imprisoned in the Temple Prison later that year. Just a month later, the National Convention of France announced that it had abolished the French monarchy. The Revolutionary Tribunal convicted Marie-Antoinette of high treason, and on 16 October 1793, the Tribunal executed her by guillotine.
It was hard for me to imagine Marie-Antoinette roaming the halls of this rather modest chateau. Especially 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 and elegant. Yet it seems restrained, even austere compared to the extravagance and opulence of the Palace of Versailles. It’s worth seeing both homes, if only to compare the two architectural and decorative styles.
The Queen’s Hamlet
While exploring the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, you may happen upon a smattering of rustic medieval-looking buildings. This was the Hameau de la Reine, or the 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 Queen’s Hamlet, built in the Norman style between 1783 and 1787, included eleven houses and a farm, which provided food for the palace.
One building that was undergoing restoration during our visit was the “Queen’s 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 under restoration to their original architectural styles. This includes any additions from the First Empire and Restoration periods. The interiors are also undergoing restoration to their First Empire glory.
They had a wonderful display detailing the renovation work. This included a picture of what the Queen’s House looks like underneath all the scaffolding. The house is actually two separate buildings, joined by a wooden gallery. The fashion house Dior is sponsoring the restoration work.
Most of the gardens in the Queen’s Hamlet are still true to their original 18th Century layouts, though. In fact, the hamlet gardens included fruit trees, vineyards and vegetable gardens:
Honestly, the buildings here don’t feel real. It almost felt like a movie set. It’s easy to see why Marie Antoinette loved this place so much. The Palace of Versailles, for all its grandeur feels overwhelming by comparison.
The best part of the Queen’s Hamlet, though, is the actual farm itself. It’s gorgeous!
There’s livestock galore here, including pot-bellied pigs, chickens, ducks, and sheep. Marie Antoinette had livestock imported all the way from Switzerland.
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:
Marie Antoinette’s love of “simple country living” got her into some trouble, though. She enjoyed dressing up like a peasant. So much so, that she would even milk the cows. She would play the part of a poor shepherdess, all the while still 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.
Where to Stay
Looking for a place to stay in Versailles? Start your search here: