You’ve been dreaming of going to Versailles. After all, it is the most beautiful Castle in the world, right?
Abso-freakin-lutely. But you’ll hate it. Why, you ask? Because, just like Venice and Dubrovnik, Versailles is a place that is ridiculously overrun by idiotic tourists who don’t even know how to behave. The volumes of people are so large that the castle is almost impossible to traverse. The crowds are so large that guards can’t even take care of the art work. I had to yell at some asshole American tourist who was touching a painting. Then he had the balls to look at me incredulously as if I had no right to do this. If any of you know the “gentleman” in the pictures, please give him the following message as I may have been too furious to be articulate when I was yelling at him in broken French:
THIS GOES TO THAT YOU AND THE MANY MORE LIKE YOU – THE ART IS NOT YOURS – THE ART IS FRAGILE – THE ART IS OLD – IF YOU TOUCH IT WITH YOUR GRUBBY, DISGUSTING, KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN LICKING FINGERS, YOU ARE GOING TO RUIN THE ART. YOU ARE NOT ANYWHERE NEAR AS IMPORTANT OR AS SIGNIFICANT AS THIS ART IS. YOU’LL LIVE AT MOST 100 YEARS, BUT THIS ART CAN LIVE ON MUCH LONGER IF ASSES LIKE YOU DON’T TOUCH IT.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I’ll give you a little history behind the castle and its gardens, and after, I’ll tell you why you should still consider going to Versailles.
There was once a guy named Nicholas Fouquet. He was the minister of finance to Louis XIV. Apparently, he was doing so well with the king’s finances that he decided to hire one of France’s most sought after achitects, Louis Le Vau, André Le Nôtre and Charles Le Brun to re-design the Chateau of Vaux-Le-Vicompte. He decided that he would entertain the king, who was so impressed with the castle, he began to ask himself how Fouquet could afford such an amazing Chateau. Three weeks after their meeting, Fouquet was arrested for embezzlement. His property was seized and his rival (Colbert) took all the artists away into he king’s service at Versailles. It is no surprise that Vaux le Vicompte is the model for what is seen stylistically in Versailles.
The history of Versailles begins in the 1600’s with a man from Florence named Gondi who was part of the parliament in Paris. He invited King Louis XIII to hunt in his forests. The king fell in love and in 1622 bought a piece of the property for his use. The king hired the architect Le Roi to build a small hunting chateau of stone with a slate roof. Eventually the king obtained the property owned by Gondi and the castle got larger. By the time king died in 1642, there was a village in Versailles of 1,000 inhabitants. At this time his son Louis XIV was a mere 5 years old.
In 1661 when Louis XIV began his own rule, he showed an interest in the site. He liked the idea of escaping Paris and his political duties. Paris was a rough place for the king. Politics and insurrection had interfered with his fun. Louis XIV hired Le Vau after seeing his work at Vaux-Le-Vicompte to transform the modest gentleman’s chateau into a full scale castle. He also hired Andre Le Notre to be his landscape architect.
In 1678, the king officially transferred his court and the government to Versailles. As of 1682, Paris was no longer the capital of France. The city of Versailles grew as the king allowed anyone to have a lot in the city for free as long as they paid a tax every year and built a house according to established architect in chief of the king.
Now that we’ve gotten through a bit of history, I know you want to see the castle. Heck, I could not resist. I suggest you get there super early before the crowds roll in. As soon as the castle starts to feel stuffy….get the hell out and into its gorgeous gardens.
The gardens were planned by Andre Le Notre in the 1660′s. His whole schema was to force nature and the landscape into a coherent and comprehensible design. The gardens were so beautiful, that the king would hold fetes in the gardens and its courts. Actors would set up in the gardens to entertain the king and queen.
- The Orangerie
- The Fountain of Latona
- The Fountain of Apollo
- The Grand Canal
- The Grove of Apollo
- The Colonnade with Pluto & Persephone
- Passeport pass - Get this. It costs €18 (or €25 when there are water shows) but this gets you access anywhere on the grounds.
- Advance tickets - Buy your tickets in advance so you can skip the lines. If you forgot to buy your tickets online, go to the tourism office in Versailles when you get to town. It’s pretty empty and you can buy your passport pass there.
- Rent a bike - There are bike rentals at the gardens. Pick up a bottle of rose at the castle, a jambon beurre, and find yourself a nice quiet spot. This will make the trip to Versailles worth it.
- Get there early - like I said, this is one of the worst places for tourists. So if you get there early, you may avoid some of the crowds. Give yourself plenty of time. Versailles is big, an hour or two won’t do it.
- Go in late September/early October - the crowds are smaller and the fountains are still on.
- Check out the city - The actual city of Versailles is tres charmant. Definitely make some time to walk through and pick up food at one of their restaurants.
- Wear sunscreen & comfortable shoes - that’s just common sense.
How to Get there
Versailles Rive Gauche (RER C from the Saint-Michel and Champ de Mars stations from Paris)
Versailles Rive Droite (Transilien from Saint-Lazare and La Défense stations from Paris)
Versailles Chantiers (Transilien from Montparnasse station from Paris)
DO NOT TAKE A BUS – the train is a quicker and more pleasant ride.
By Car: Take the A13, exit at Versailles Centre. There’s parking at the Place d’Armes, Allée de Bailly, Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon