Now, I’m not about to give you a history lesson, but I am about to share a very beautiful place. Château de Versailles is somewhere I’ve heard of – history books, guide books and the occasional magazine – but no one has quite managed to shake me and say, ‘God, the Palace at Versailles is tres bien, magnifique, go immediately!’ Like most people, history fascinates me and as I'm in PR and marketing, I'm all about sharing the love.
I studied A-Level history which means I can pretty much give you a few facts before running dry or getting confused on dates. That aside, appreciating where we have come from, looking at stories from our past, understanding them, questioning them and hopefully learning from them is pretty important.
I went on a day trip from Paris where I was expecting a long and arduous journey. Alas it was about an hour, but nowhere near as long as anticipated as the Metro system is so good. Once at the train station it is easy to find as there are tour guides everywhere.
The palace is a magnificent building which was built in 1682 by Louis XIV and still takes your breath away with a luxurious and decadent colour palette of pink and gold. The palace holds room upon room of beautiful paintings, decorative ceilings and divine lights.
It is the Hall of Mirrors which is the jewel in the crown at Château de Versailles, most famous for the place where Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, bringing the First World War to an end.
Everyone will tell you to get to the hall super early but it is still a fight to enjoy it with so many tour groups. Honestly you’ll get sick of seeing people with a bright green water bottle in the air so a hoard of tourists can keep track of their guide. I recommend going back towards the end of the day if you can, when everyone is on their way home – it is bright and airy and stunning.
The formal gardens are on a huge scale in grand formations. It is worth noting that the fountains are only on specific days (check – don’t take my word for it!). The bit you don’t hear about so much are the other buildings in Versailles – oh yes there are more! The Trianon Palaces and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate are astonishingly good and well worth the half an hour walk from the main palace (there’s a mini train if you need one!) This site includes the Petit Trianon, the Grand Trianon and the Queen's Hamlet.
The pale pink exquisite Grand Trianon is a wonder built by Jules Hardouin Mansart in 1687 during the reign of Louis XIV was my favourite and beyond a dream house. The gardens were area upon area of a delight. The Petit Trianon is also perfectly formed built by Ange-Jacques Gabriel much later in the 1760s during the reign of Louis XV. Also imagine the grand balls and parties as they would have been in these extraordinary settings.
Finally, you’ve heard the legend and myths of Marie Antoinette and here is proof of her legacy. For the charismatic Queen Marie Antoinette wanted beautiful gardens and that is what she got! In 1783 these varied and intricate gardens of Marie Antoinette’s Estate were ordered to include the Queen’s Hamlet. It is the perfect place to sit and take it all in. The surroundings are filled with plenty of animals in the wild and on the farm and here there are bridges, rocks and woods to go exploring if you still have time.
So many times this setting has been used as a setting in film or has been written about in books but for all the layers of history, of revolution and peace-making, it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place to spend a day. Stories are often told, re-told, spin added, propaganda used, accounts lost, plots reimagined but we should never stop looking, exploring, questioning. It is worth remembering that whether it is a building, a painting, a piece of content or a campaign, that quality is so very important. All the work that went into the original architecture (over 36,000 men worked on this site) and then the work since to restore it is magnificent and proof that we must remember the past enjoy the present and look to the future.
For more information visit the brilliant and informative Château de Versailles website with information on opening times, fountains, special concerts and exhibitions.