The Grotesque Splendour of Versailles

So it's official. Summer is over. I escaped the last of that dreary weather we had at the beginning of September and have just got back from the Ionian Islands, where I spent a beyond relaxing time intermittently swimming in the sea and eating halloumi. #Priorities. There will, of course, be more on that later, but I've still got plenty to catch you up on from my trip to Paris.

One Sunday saw us out of bed nice and early for the grandest of excursions. Well, that and the accordion player outside who roused us with an energetic version of the 'Amelie' theme tune at 7:30am. Don't get me wrong, at any normal hour I would have loved it, but not after a night filled with sweet but oh-so-cheap red wine.

Fran, my honorary Parisian local, figured that Versailles would be popular on this particular Sunday. It turns out she was wrong. Versailles, whilst indeed popular on a Sunday, is also popular on a Monday. And every other day of the week. And every week of the year. Probably for eternity. It's that busy.

You can catch the train to Versailles on the RER C, which we picked up from Javel. It takes about 25 minute to get there and when you arrive you simply follow the hoards of people walking in pilgrimage-like fashion to the palace itself. Before you think 'Oooooh, this building is so fancy, are we here?' or 'Wow there's so much gold on this building, is this the palace?' the answer is NO. Until you can't see where the palace stops in your peripheral vision, you've not arrived. I'm not joking. It is beyond huge. Like, absolutely ginormous.

The Chateau of Versailles is the former residence of France's royalty and frankly it makes Buckingham Palace look like a wendy house in comparison. Being under 25, we could get into the palace for free, but unfortunately this didn't include queue jump. Hearing that there was a 3-4 hour wait to get in, we opted to view the even more monumentally massive gardens, which took up the whole day in itself. You're free to wander around at your leisure and there are certain areas that you can have picnics in. Amazing news for those looking to chow down on baguettes and cheese in the most opulent of settings.

The Italian garden pictured above is bloomin' huge, but only takes up about 1/30th of the grounds. According to the tour group we were cheekily trailing behind, the last Louie to grace the throne was so concerned for his garden during the coldest part of winter that he had a large number of prisoners executed so as to move his beloved trees indoors away from the frost. It was then that the place started feeling a little odd to me.

Of course, you would be undeniably stupid to think that the grounds of Versailles weren't beautifully curated to perfection. Today, just as when Kings and Queens wandered the paths, it stands as a testament to the devotion and impact of people on their landscape. Flower beds are a painstakingly selected colour palette. Hedges are perfectly shaped. Gates to the toilets are even topped with gold. It's overwhelming in it's quantity. In short, it's a grotesque splendour.

It's no surprise that the King was forced out of Versailles when the revolution succeeded in France. For one person to hold this much wealth is totally ridiculous by anyone's standards. Sure, he'd let members of the public walk around the grounds, but only to act as a 'royal audience'. After all, what's the point of being rich when you don't have anyone to see it and swoon?!

Let's put it this way, when we walked down to the Grand Canal for a brioche stop (it's a real thing), it took us a full hour to get there. An hour. It takes me approximately 3 seconds to walk to the end of my garden. 

Sneaky Tip: If you want to see inside a fancy building but don't want to wait in the queue, head to the Grand Trianon. In my opinion, it's much nicer than the gargantuan palace up the hill. This group of buildings is scaled down with pretty, winding gardens encircling the pink marble walls. It's elegant and well-proportioned. Why does it exist? Louis XIV had it built in 1670 to escape the pomp of court and to house his mistress Madam de Montespan. Lucky lady.

Inside the gallery pictured above, there are large oiled paintings featuring each of the enclosed gardens of Versailles. Here, perfectly coiffed members of the aristocracy prance and preen as cherubs rake the gravel and angels spurt water out of their cherried lips. A nice thought, but it left me thinking about how disgustingly pig-headed the rich were about their elite status and their overwhelming desire to erase any presence of the poor and lowly. It's weird and uncomfortable and I feel way more feels when listening to the Les Miserables soundtrack now than I ever did before.

Thankfully, nowadays visitors can walk around and appreciate what is a wonderful testament to horticulture, history and heritage. Perspective provides an unique experience for everyone who walks through the gates at Versailles.

Fun Fact: The King had all the flowers pictured above put into pots so that his servants could change the look of the garden before he woke up every day. 

Tips for a Day at Versailles:

// Get there early. Before 10am is good. Before 9am is better. Stay until 5:30pm and you'll catch the fountains showing off to a fanfare of orchestral music. Ooo-er.

// Pack a picnic. Stock up on baguettes, cheese, tomatoes and olives before you leave and find a good picnic spot for lunch. The cafes are quite expensive and you can't ask for more picturesque surroundings.

// Wear good shoes. You'll be walking a lot. I mean, a lot.

// Head to the Grand Trianon and Petite Trianon for a look inside a royal residence, without battling for elbow room in the crowds up at the Chateau.

If you've been to Versailles, what did you think? If you haven't, what do you think you'd enjoy most?

Read about my other Paris and Travel posts here.

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