We went to Versailles… and skipped the Palace!

My girlfriend and I had always wanted to visit Versailles, so on our last trip to Paris we jumped on the train… But our day trip didn’t quite go as planned!

It was a beautiful day and once we arrived, instead of going straight inside the Château, we decided to take a walk around the grounds first. The manicured gardens, groves and fountains were beckoning us, bathed in morning sunshine.

So off we went, first through the grove called the Le Bosquet des Trois-Fontaines (External link) (Grove of the Tree Fountains), which we read Louis XIV himself wanted to take credit for designing, instead of landscape architect André Le Nôtre. On old maps it’s written as the King’s idea. Cheeky!

We found ourselves continuing on to the Grand Trianon (External link) , one of Marie-Antoinette’s ‘pleasure palaces’. We could just imagine her spirit here, flouncing around before her demise. We flounced around it too, then ate a snack on the lawn nearby.

Then we wandered back through the groves, to Bosquet de la Salle de Bal (Ballroom Grove) (External link) . The glistening eight-level water cascade captivated us.

Suddenly, we were ravenous! I’d booked a table at Michelin-starred La Table du 11, so we headed there. My girlfriend was impressed! The lunch menu was incredible: scallops with fennel and clementine. The dinner menu with lobster and Jerusalem artichoke looked just as tempting.

To work off lunch, we took a look at the trompe l’oeil paintings around Versailles, a fascinating reminder of the art of the 17th and 18th centuries. The letterbox at the Hôtel des Postes, the 18th century-style ‘shops’ on Rue Mazière and the faux windows at 22 Rue de Satory were our favourites.

Then it struck us: we were too tired to visit the palace! And we didn’t want to leave Versailles without seeing it… so we decided to see if there was a room available in town. Luckily, Le Versailles right near the Château had space for us. The place made us feel like royalty ourselves, with its wall-size paintings of the Hall of Mirrors and Marie-Antoinette.

The next morning it was hard to leave our comfortable beds, but staff at the hotel told us we must visit La Maison des Parfums, a little perfume museum right next to the palace. This cabinet of curiosities helped us discover a whole lot more about France’s perfume traditions. It was fascinating.

From there, we headed to the 17th century Salle du Jeu de Paume. Louis XIV once played tennis here, and it’s where the famous ‘Tennis Court Oath’ happened, which abolished the monarchy and instigated a new French constitution. We took our time examining the archival documents, busts and classical paintings.

Enjoying our little ‘time travel’ tour, we went off to visit the baroque Cathédrale Saint-Louis de Versailles and its incredible stained glass windows.

Then we strolled through the Potager du Roi’s vast kitchen gardens, which once supplied the King’s official table and is now a landscape school and kitchen garden.

Happy, tired and full up on history, beauty and nature, we were ready to head back to Paris. It was at this moment we suddenly realised: Oh no! We haven’t seen the palace!

My girlfriend shrugged. ‘You know what? It doesn’t matter!’

This was true. Discovering the town of Versailles and the sights and gardens around the palace was an equally, if not more, thrilling cultural experience.

Zoom in:

Getting to Versailles