The Gardens of Versailles: in the footsteps of the Sun King
If Versailles is a pearl, its park is a jewellery box. Pretend you're Louis XIV and start your stroll under the windows of the Hall of Mirrors, the most emblematic room in the château. For André Le Nôtre, the King's gardener, water was a central element which, thanks to a clever arrangement of ponds and fountains, reflected the light on the King's sumptuous residence like an allegory of his solar aura.
The beauty of the park is enhanced by a hundred statues and a thousand plant species in its gigantic Orangery, where pomegranate and oleander trees stand alongside lemon trees and two-hundred-year-old palms brought over from Spain and Italy. Please note that Orangery visits require advance booking. As you stroll through, you'll discover a harmonious composition of ornamental shrubs, sculptures, water features and fountains, and admire the King's Garden, a grove planted with numerous exotic species. Finally, between April and October, don't miss the Grandes Eaux and the Jardins Musicaux, two events which, among other things, set the fountains dancing to Baroque music.
Courances and Fontainebleau: another royal residence
Situated 50km south-east of the capital, the Domaine de Courances and its beautiful gardens are the perfect destination for a romantic getaway. The park surrounding the château is known as the only one in the Classical-Romantic style. Here again, the water element is omnipresent and the park has no less than 17 Renaissance-style ponds which, a century later, would inspire André Le Nôtre, Louis XIV's famous gardener.
You will also appreciate its three-hectare certified organic vegetable garden, which supplies fruit and vegetables to the whole of Paris and its region, as well as to the Domaine's restaurant. For those who want to extend their stay, three picturesque houses nestled in the heart of the park and overlooking a lovely Japanese garden are available for rent. They're an ideal base for exploring the historic town of Fontainebleau and its château, both nearby. Known as the 'residence of the kings of France', Fontainebleau has been the home of France's most famous sovereigns since the 12th century. Seemingly straight out of a fairytale, the château is surrounded by a forest of old oaks that was once reserved for royal hunting and is now a delight for nature lovers. You can also explore the park on a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride.
Vaux-le-Vicomte: the château that inspired Versailles
Vaux-le-Vicomte is one of the greatest châteaux in France and was commissioned by Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV's Superintendent of Finance. The result of the imagination of the most prominent figures of the 17th century in the field of architecture, decoration and landscaping, its imposing splendour served as a model for Versailles.
Inside, all the ornaments, from the furniture to the paintings to the gilding of the stucco, are magnificently preserved. The imagination of André Le Nôtre, the most famous landscape gardener of his time, gave birth to a vast park of 33 hectares, dominated by its boxwood rows and mirror pools. You will end your visit in the château's stables, which have been transformed into a museum and now house a rare collection of old cars.