I’ve been back from Paris for a few days now and not had time to post about our last two days there. They were both very special in slightly different ways.
I’ve called this post Two Gardens because we visited two gardens on our last days in Paris – possibly so that we could walk for miles instead of cycling. It felt better using a different set of muscles. But also because Versailles is rather like two gardens in one. (I will post about the other garden, Giverny, tomorrow).
On Saturday afternoon we drove down to Versailles. I do think that often the trick with getting the most out of these places is to do a bit of research and if possible, avoid the crowds. The main entrance is a coach parking lot – there are just thousands of people. As we only had a few hours we decided to cut round the side of the grounds and find parking alongside one of the gates into the park (which is free entrance and open to all). In my opinion, the park is the best aspect of Versailles. The juxtaposition of open meadowland and formally cut lines of trees is wonderfully done. There’s a wonderful sense of scale in the use of trees as hedges – they seem to go up for miles.
If you’re not that concerned about seeing the grand palace of Versailles, then do what we did and head directly to the bottom of the garden to see the two summer houses – Grand Trianon, built by Louise XIV, and Petit Trianon, built by Louis XV. Both were built with the same purpose as places where they could escape and relax from the strict etiquette of the palace, and places where they could spend time with their current mistress.
Grand Trianon is more the more formal of the two, with traditional French gardens and standard stately home decor. It is indeed grand and memorable, clad as it is in pink marble. The cost of building this little summer house must have been enormous!
From the covered walkway, the garden lies like a carpet of geometric flower beds, lawns and pathways.
If this is your thing, it’s an impressive view. I must say here, that this is the Trianon that I favour less. For me, the relative simplicity of Petit Trianon, and lushness of it’s garden are far more enjoyable.
The first thing you encounter as you enter Petit Trianon is a courtyard surrounded by covered walkways leading to the house chapel, a wonderfully light space with a sense of great tranquility.
The interior of the building has some charming surprises – an impressive staircase, sumptuous footman uniforms, and innovative panels that slide up from the ground floor to screen first floor windows. The garden is a rambling parkland filled with heady scented blooms. If you wander far enough through the gardens, the jewel in the Petit Trianon crown emerges: Hameau de la Reine, a little hamlet built for Marie Antoinette in 1783. It’s a cross between Disney and Hobbiton. The buildings include the queen’s Boudoir, a dairy, a dove house, a gardeners cottage and a tower. Words are inadequate to describe this place so I’m going to finish my descfription of Petit Trianon with a couple of photographs that I hope capture the nature of Hameau de la Reine.
If you have the change to visit Versailles and you don’t mind missing out on the palace, head straight for the two Trianons and see a side of royalty that might deliver some new perspectives.
Monet’s garden at Giverny will be the topic of my next post.