France was the last stop in our Europe trip.
I realised during the tour that we were lucky we didn’t need to spend any time queuing up for tickets as all our tours were pre booked and we had a local guide. Otherwise there seemed to be hundreds of people waiting for tickets and to get in everywhere we went.
We started our trip with a tour of the Palace of Versailles. Versailles has been the capital of the kingdom of France for over a century, from 1682 to 1789. Nowadays it is a wealthy suburb of Paris, some 17 km away from the French capital, and remains an important administrative and judicial centre.
The first thing you must do is enter the golden gates. Once inside, the sheer size of the complex will leave you speechless.
This splendid and enormous palace was built in the mid-17th century during the reign of Louis XIV – the Roi Soleil (Sun King) – to project the absolute power of the French monarchy, which was then at the height of its glory. Its scale and decor also reflect Louis XIV’s taste for profligate luxury and his boundless appetite for self-glorification. Some 30,000 workers and soldiers toiled on the structure, the bills for which all but emptied the kingdom’s coffers. The château has undergone relatively few alterations since its construction, though almost all the interior furnishings disappeared during the Revolution and many of the rooms were rebuilt by Louis-Philippe (r 1830–48).
As you enter the Palace from the main entrance, you immediately realize that the Château de Versailles is all about extravagance and luxury. Gold accentuates everything from the gates to the statues ornamenting the exterior of the building, up to furnishings inside. Opulent chandeliers and loads of paintings, sculptures, and tapestries adorn the interiors. Each of the French kings who lived there until the French Revolution, added improvements to make it more beautiful. The major of these, were those by Louis XIV, who devoted many rooms and parts of the gardened to the sun – the monarch’s symbol – or one of the seven planets that revolve around the magical star.
Inside, you will see the Grand Apartments of the King and Queen that include the infamous Hall of Mirrors. It was here that the king crowed his royal power to visitors.
Once we finished with the Chateau, we went outside and start wandering through the garden. The garden is massive; it looked bigger that from Schönbrunn Palace , with flower beds to highlight the castle, statues, vases and busts decorated its paths.
The gardens are stunning and the music coming out from the hidden speakers made the ambience even better.
The section of the vast gardens nearest the palace, laid out between 1661 and 1700 in the formal French style, is famed for its geometrically aligned terraces, flowerbeds, tree-lined paths, ponds and fountains. The 400-odd statues of marble, bronze and lead were made by the most talented sculptors of the era. The English-style Jardins du Petit Trianon are more pastoral and have meandering, sheltered paths.
The gardens’ largest fountains are the 17th-century Bassin de Neptune (Neptune’s Fountain), a dazzling mirage of 99 spouting gushers 300m north of the palace, and the Bassin d’Apollon (Apollo’s Fountain) built in 1688 at the eastern end of the Grand Canal.
We couldn’t get over the size of the garden and the different hidden pathways you can find in it. Although we visited a small fraction of the gardens, you get a sense of their grandeur. While we were enjoying the romantic walk in the garden, out of nowhere it suddenly started raining heavily. There was nowhere to shelter so me and AS ran towards the palace, the way back was long and uphill. By the time we got to the shelter, we both were soaking wet. So we waited in the palace for the rain to stop before going back to our tour bus.
It looked really funny when we got to the bus as the sun was up again and we looked stupid to be soaking wet.