The Palace of Versailles (once the home of King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette) is on the agenda for today and we are doing it the easy way by getting someone to pick us up, take us and drop us back (France Tourisme). We had booked another Versailles Day Trip, which luckily for us got cancelled because while searching for a new tour, we realised that most tours don’t actually take in Marie Antoinette’s grounds! Being a fan of the modern-take movie Marie Antoinette, starring Kirsten Dunst as Marie, and having seen them in the movie, I would have been sorry to have missed them.
The journey takes about 45 minutes, not long by the time you finish winding your way through the streets of Paris. And then you arrive, along with 100 other tour coaches and line up to get inside, bags checked on the way in. Even without going inside, you can tell the grounds are absolutely massive. In fact they once took up 7,800 hectares, but today it sits on just 800.
Married at the age of 15 to cement the relationship between Austria and France, Queen at the age of 19, Marie became known for her extravagant lifestyle. Elaborate wigs, designer shoes, over the top gowns and not to mention the fabulous parties – she was the ‘It Girl’ of her day.
Marie was nicknamed “Madam Deficit”. The people of France blamed her for the country’s financial crisis. She was a foreigner and if that wasn’t enough, her spending on elaborate costumes, gambling parties and affairs set tongues wagging.
Walking through the Palace, I’m not surprised the people were angry at the Royals. It’s full of highly decorated ceilings, windows and furnishings – marble and gold trimming at every turn – and absolutely magnificently huge!
By far the most stunning part of the Palace for me, is the Hall of Mirrors. The Hall of Mirrors (all 73 metres of it) was the passageway between the King and Queen’s quarters and was used for large receptions, royal weddings and ambassadorial presentations.
The Storming of Versailles, also known as ‘The Women’s March’ signified the beginning of the end of Marie and Louis – the catalyst was the general shortage and high prices of bread (just so you know – Marie apparently never uttered the famous words ‘let them eat cake’, it was those nasty tabloids that made up the story).
About 2,000 women gathered at the market place on 5 October 1789 and formed a march on the royal palace. The woman wanted to demand bread from the sovereign and walked 21km to Versailles in the pouring rain to do so. Along the way, they were joined by women from different market places, armed with kitchen tools such as blades. By the time they reached the outskirts of Paris ,the crowd had grown to almost 10,000 people with many man also having joined the march.
The National Guard tried to stop the march, but abandoned the task when it was discovered that most of the guardsmen supported the rioters and began to threaten desertion. Instead, a messenger was dispatched to Versailles to warn the king.
The crowd was pretty angry by the time they reached Versailles 6 hours later, shouting out obscenities at Marie Anoinette. They were met by members of the Assembly who invited them into a nearby hall. A few of the women were invited to meet with the King and it was agreed that food from the royal stores would be distributed with more to follow. Some of the women returned to Paris but a lot remained, and the atmosphere became hostile.
A small group of rioters discovered an unguarded palace entrance in the early hours of the next morning and came inside looking for the Queen’s bedchamber. The palace guards panicked and fired at the crowd killing a young man, which caused the rest of the rioters to storm the palace. One guard managed to alert Marie Antoinette about the encroaching crowd and she managed to escape through the secret door of her bedchamber.
The crowds were eventually calmed and the king made an appearance to the crowd, proclaiming his intention to travel back to Paris. He returned inside the castle with the crowd demanding that Marie appear on the balcony. She did so, and the crowd was impressed by her dignified appearance as she appeared with her arms crossed over her chest.
That afternoon a cortege escorted the royal family to Paris – there were now 60,000 in the crowd and they followed alongside the carriages, singing, surrounding the imprisoned royal family. They never returned to Versailles and within three years, they were both dead.
Speaking of cake, there is a Laduree shop on the ground floor of the Palace (seller of the world’s best macarons), so we buy a small box to snack on – because Marie would have.
After exploring the Palace, you can board les petits train to the other side of the grounds where you can find the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon.
Le Petit Trianon was a fairy tale village built for Marie at Versailles. It was given to Marie by Louis with the words ‘Since you love flowers, I am giving you the entire bouquet‘. It ncluded a hamlet with lakes, gardens, cottages, watermills and a farmhouse and it was her escape from the everyday protocols of the Palace. The queen and her ladies-in-waiting dressed as peasants and pretended to be milkmaids and shepherdesses, whilst peasants in villages throughout France starved.
Lunch is taken outside the grounds of the Grand Trianon – which was the retreat of the King. Although nothing as grand as what would ever have been served on these grounds, we very much enjoyed our Indian Curry Baked Potatoes from the Potato Man (La Parmentier de Versailles).
The Grand Trianon is a palace of pink marble and was as full to the brim of excess and pomp as the Palace.
It’s certainly worth spending the whole day here as there is a lot to do – down by the Grand Canal you can even take a rowboat ride – there is cycle hire, segway tours and loads of places to eat. And of course, if the weather is beautiful, just sit and enjoy the magnificent gardens.