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.
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 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.
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 called 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.