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Exploring French châteaux: visiting Versailles

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Now, there is much more to France’s most famous castle’s estate than ‘only’ the castle and gardens. There are actually three castles: the main castle, Le Grand Trianon and Le Petit Trianon!

Located at the far right side of the estate, and opened in 2006, Le Domaine de Marie-Antoinette (The Queen’s Estate) reveals Marie-Antoinette’s private life. Louis XVI’s wife loved this place where she could play pretend with her children and best friends, living a simple, rural-like life away from the pomp of Versailles. No-one else could go there without an invitation.

There you will discover a beautiful castle: Le Petit Trianon and its gardens. At the end are also some Snow White-like little houses and a charming little farm.

Admission is free for children under 18 throughout the Versailles estate and there are four main areas to visit: the main castle, the gardens of the castle, Le Grand Trianon and The Queen’s Estate. Plan your trip: look at the different areas, decide what you want to visit and which ‘passport’ is best for you. Check out the official site for this. It can be quite confusing to decide while you are standing in line…

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There are many things to see in the main castle’s gardens. The fountains are switched on for ‘Les grandes eaux musicales’, on Saturdays and Sundays and some Tuesdays. This is not to be mistaken with ‘Les grandes eaux nocturnes’ which is a water, sound and light show (as far as I understood – I did not see it myself but I heard it was amazing) on Saturday evenings.

And be prepared to walk… you may rent a small battery car (30 euros/hour), take a little train through the estate (about seven euros) or simply park wisely, but chances are you’ll be walking a lot. It took Olivier and I seven hours to do the grand tour, and we zoomed through the castles!

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In this picture I am standing at the very very bottom of the map, behind the main castle, facing the Grand Canal which begins at the end of the picture. The Grand Trianon and Marie Antoinette estate are at the very right of the map… quite a hike. The map says allow 25 minutes, I’d say it’s more like 45…

The main château is huge and gets very crowded. I would never imagine visiting the castle in the peak of the tourist season. If you do, make sure you come with tickets, at opening time, to try and beat the tourists’ tours. Otherwise, be ready to stay in line for two or three hours. No joke.

There is a lot to see inside the castle, but most tourists are interested in La Galerie des Glaces and Les Appartements du Roi. The tour actually took us through many galeries that were not all that interesting to us; paintings and statues, beautiful as they may be, were not what we were there for…

There ought to be a ‘faster’ tour, with short cuts through the castle to go directly to La Galerie des Glaces – next time, I’ll ask one of the castle’s crew. Maybe it was just a question of looking at the signs and not just following the crowd. If you know about it, do share!



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