Two Gardens – Versailles

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.

Versaille: Hedges made from Trees, and walkways that go to the horizon.
Versaille: Hedges made from Trees, and walkways that go to the horizon.

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!

Grand Trianon's approach is impressive and very pink.
Grand Trianon’s approach is impressive and very pink.

From the covered walkway, the garden lies like a carpet of geometric flower beds, lawns and pathways.

Grand Trianon garden is laid out like a geometric carpet of flowers, lawn and pathways.
Grand Trianon garden is laid out like a geometric carpet of flowers, lawn 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 cloisters at Petit Trianon - a charming place
The cloisters at Petit Trianon – a charming place

 

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.

Petit Trianon's Hameau de la Reine
\ Petit Trianon’s Hameau de la Reine

 

Hameau de la Reine - Irises growing on the roof of the dove house
Hameau de la Reine – Irises growing on the roof of the dove house

 

Hameau de la Reine - Flower pots on the stair
Hameau de la Reine – Flower pots on the stair

 

Hameau de la Reine - Perfection in a veg garden
Hameau de la Reine – Perfection in a veg garden

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.

5 thoughts on “Two Gardens – Versailles

  1. Great photos Vandy. Loved both of these iconic French gardens when I saw them. I have wanted to tackle Versailles for ages but not sure how to portray the formality and grandeur of it. So will be interested to see how you paint it if you choose to. Hope you got to see all the fountains working too. They have them on in the afternoons now I think.

  2. Don’t lnow if we will ever make it back to Versailles but thanks for the heads up that you can just visit the garden and miss the maddening crowds. We were there in the height of their summer and I almost passed out inside the palace as there was not enought air for all the bodies!. Great photos and I too look forward to Giverny post

  3. What a wonderful sense of history to these places. I found myself wondering if Marie Antoinette ever used the side stair or if it was for the servants. I wondered at the use of wood for the stairs and what a juxtaposition against the richer building material. And the windows! I love them! Thanks for sharing your trip; I am so enjoying it!

  4. sounds like you had a great trip …glad you did the last leg ! …charming photos and details vandy of the hamlet ..i’d like to go back to visit the gardens again .

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