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|Where’s Georgie-Jet? Versailles, France|
Hi, I am Georgette, a writer, photographer and artist based in Connecticut. I am also Johnny Jet’s older sister, who quite possibly ignited the first spark of interest in traveling to exotic places, when at the impressionable age of 13, he saw my trip to Australia last three years! This is the third time I have had the privilege of writing for JohnnyJet.com. My first travel journal was about the island of French Martinique and can be found in JohnnyJet.com’s June ’05 archives. The second time, I went to Paris, (November 15, ’06 ) and now my experience is about Versailles, where I continue the "Marie Antoinette" excursion.
In my recent article about the trip to Paris, we left there with a sigh and wondered if the rest of our trip could possibly be as good. Well it was! Maybe even better!! We were now traveling just outside Paris to the world of the Chateaus and the Palaces of Marie Antoinette.
On our way to Versailles, we stopped at Restaurant Maison Fournaise located in Chatou, on the banks of the Seine River. This restaurant was made famous by the artist Renoir in his painting Le Dejeuner des Canotiers painted in 1880, and referred to in the recent movie ¬Amelie (remember the elder gentleman who only painted copies of this painting?) At the turn of the century (as well as today), Parisians liked to get out of the city and enjoy the country life, especially picnicking along the river. Better than a picnic, this century old restaurant is only 15 minutes from Paris by train or car, and it has not changed much since that time. The food was wonderful – grapefruit and crayfish to start, followed by poached salmon wrapped in bright green steamed cabbage, and for dessert fresh peaches broiled over a creamy yogurt. The French are so innovative with food. The presentation was fabulous and the taste was very fresh. We had a great view of the river since we dined outside on the balcony. The atmosphere was idyllic along the banks of the Seine. Ile des Impressionnistes, 3, rue du Bac, 78400 Chatou.
Chateau Versailles, Marie Antoinette’s Private Apartments
After our leisurely lunch, we headed for Versailles, the fabulous palace of the Sun King – Louis XIV, and last royal home of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. Normally the ride by car is only 20 minutes from Paris and the train is very convenient (Versailles Station). It stops right in town and you can easily walk to the palace. Our group arrived a bit late, hitting rush hour traffic. We met with a tour guide from Chateau Versailles (ChateauVersailles.fr ) which I highly recommend, and toured the rooms of the infamous Marie Antoinette in the main palace.. To get a private tour of the private apartments, you need to go to the Information Center, gate D, first thing in the morning (9am) and reserve a tour. If you have a museum passport (Monum.fr) you can cut the lines! The Chateau is closed on Mondays, which is how Sofia Coppola was able to film "Marie Antoinette".
Our group toured her famous bedroom where the "Royal Awakening" took place. Her morning ritual that was observed by many onlookers (people of the court). This is the same room where she gave birth in public. You can see why she needed to get away to the Petite Trianon, (more about that later). We saw the famous secret door behind the bed that enabled her to escape when the mob attacked Versailles during the revolution. We ogled at a copy of the diamond necklace that was over 2000 carats, which was later stolen and created a scandal that fueled more hatred for the already unpopular French queen. (Marie Antoinette was completely innocent). We saw King Louis XVI’s room, and the famous "Hall of Mirrors". As often is the case in national monuments, part of the Hall is being renovated and is encased by cheap mirrors. But luckily, half of it has already been restored so you can view its incredible splendor. Since we arrived after 4 pm and it was late August, there were practically no crowds. The last time I had been there was 20 years ago and mid-summer. It was so crowded you could barely move. Like many tourists, I had taken a bus from the city for a day trip, big mistake. Versailles needs at least three days as you will continue to see.
The Trianon Palace and Spa
We left the palace and checked into our own palace – The Trianon Palace and Spa (Westin.com/trianonpalace), just outside the gates of the Versailles gardens. It was built in 1919 and the hottest place at the time, attracting prominent writers and actors. In 1997 Starwood Hotels bought and updated it. My room was incredible! It faced the gardens where there were grazing sheep (supposedly the ancestors of Marie Antoinette’s sheep). The ceilings were at least 16 feet high. My room was a corner room, so it was very sunny, with lots of windows and very tall working French doors in two walls. The king size bed was dwarfed in the room. The furniture was Louis the XIV and the floor length curtains were very luxurious, with lots of trim and tassels. My bathroom was almost as large as the bedroom, with a huge tub, a separate shower with six side spigots, and double sinks set in marble. The curtains were white mesh which let in sun in the morning, and did not provide privacy at night because there was no one around. (No one is allowed in the Versailles park after dark). One word of caution, the room I stayed in was approx 250-325 euros = $320-$425. If you stay in the Pavilion, (as opposed to the Palace) it will cost about 100 euros ($128) less per night, but the rooms are small and modern, designed for business conferences. Treat yourself and stay in the Palace! The Spa Trianon has 26 beauty-care cabins, devoted to the latest in spa treatments, but even with all those rooms, only one of us could get a treatment that weekend, so book in advance! E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. For budget travelers the Hotel Ibis Versailles Chateau (ibishotel.com) is next to the train station and approx 70 euros ($90) per night. For a complete list of hotels and everything to do in Versailles check out Versailles-Tourisme.com.
The Pool and Dinner at Les Trois Marches
I quickly changed into my bathing suit and took an elevator to the ground floor, where the most beautiful pool awaited. I swam for 15 minutes, showered and was ready for dinner in record time. This night, my group was being treated to a seven course traditional Louis XVI dinner at Les Trois Marches restaurant in the Trianon Palace. The meal was very special, very unique. The most memorable was the dessert, a thick chocolate drink with essence of amber and vanilla, reputed to be Marie Antoinette’s favorite morning drink. This is served with a macaroon, not an American macaroon, but a very subtle almond flavored sandwich cookie that is famous in France. The baker- Ladure’e is located on the Champs Elysee in Paris. Ladure’e was chosen by Sofia Coppola to make the sumptuous pastries and cakes for the movie "Marie Antoinette". The famous chef – Ge’rard Vie’ has been rated in all the gastronomy guides, including Michelin. Gerard has an incredible imagination. After dinner, he came out to see us and was very nervous. I thought that was cute since he was so talented. The restaurant is formal yet comfortable. When I put my purse on the table, a waiter immediately came out with a beautiful enameled box for it to lie on next to my chair. Now that is service! The hotel also has the Café Trianon and Les Petites Marches, for less formal cuisine, as well as The Bar Marie Antoinette where we gathered at night. This lounge is a throwback to the 1920’s with its cozy amber walls and salmon pink lampshades that cast a warm glow. At night we sat in upholstered dark brown velvet Louis XIV arm chairs and sipped cocktails while watching the US OPEN on a modern flat screen TV and found it difficult to leave to go to bed!
Touring of the city of Versailles
After a delightful French buffet breakfast at the Café Trianon of croissants and café au lait, we boarded "our" VW bus for a tour of the city of Versailles, often missed by tourists. There is an extensive antiques district, with over 50 merchants and an open air market on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. It was Friday so we were lucky to experience the market which put my local farmer’s market to shame. The market was one of the highlights for me. The selection of flowers, fruits, vegetables and cheeses were more extensive than regular shops at home. The people were so friendly and happily put up with my pigeon French. The market was under an orange striped open air tent. The weather was a perfect 75 degrees. A lovely lady selling fruits and vegetables gave me a bag of Mirabelle plums, when she heard I was visiting. These plums are about the size of olives, very sweet and like nothing I have ever had in the States. The cheese lady offered me samples and I decided that Comte was my new favorite cheese, and have found it back home. The large bouquets of sunflowers and lavender were gorgeous and arranged in a way that only the French can do. Versailles has many chic boutiques and restaurants as it is a weekend destination for Parisians. Of course, I sampled them and brought back a fabulous pair of shoes and special herbal teas.
Hotel Sofitel Chateau de Versailles
Lunch was at the Hotel Sofitel Chateau de Versailles hosted by general manager, Patrick Langlois. Our Marie Antoinette lunch included duck pate with fresh figs, chicken breast with a wild mushroom cream sauce and a splendid fresh baked warm apple tart for dessert. We ate inside and I was charmed to see a couple eating lunch with their small dog under the table. I knew this was common at outdoor bistros, but apparently accepted in elegant restaurants like this one. Another reason to move to Versailles! The tourist website Versailles-Tourisme.com has a list of restaurants and the ones with symbol of a small dog next to it means you can bring your dog! (Another reason I like France is that unlike the States, pets are a part of daily life and not excluded from shops and restaurants). The Hotel Sofitel is right in the downtown and has 152 newly renovated rooms and feature Roger Gallet bath products. The hotel is small enough that you are treated like a special guest. Sofitel Chateau de Versailles is running a special discount promotion on the weekends that includes a horse drawn carriage ride in Versailles Park.
Le Petite Trianon
In the afternoon, we went to Marie Antoinette’s favorite home, Le Petite Trianon, on the grounds of Versailles, a wedding gift from her husband, and once the former home of the mistress of his grandfather-King Louis XV. This was Marie Antoinette’s private palace where she could get away from all those annoying courtiers (remember the ones that loved to watch her get out of bed?) This is the place where she had private parties and gambled and maybe even had affairs. The palace was small compared to Chateau Versailles (of course!), but the ceilings were tall and the rooms were large. She loved this place and spent as much time as she possibly could there, especially after she had her children. On the grounds, she had her own theater, large enough for 200 people, decorated with gilt papier mache’ where she performed for a small audience. She was always the star! The theater was very impressive and it is amazing that the revolutionaries did not destroy it. Marie Antoinette had King Louis XV’s formal gardens ripped up in favor of English gardens which were stylish at the time. The beautiful grounds feature many ponds, the Belvedere gazebo and the famous grotto where she spent time in private (with her reputed lovers, but this place is so dark and damp I wonder if this rumor is correct!) There are "medieval" farm houses she had commissioned on the grounds to complete her fantasy. This is where she played shepardess and tended her sheep (the in-vogue thing to do at the time!) These grounds are now open to visitors for the first time in ten years. The grounds are a place to go when the weather is warm and you have lots of time to walk around with comfortable shoes. They will be renovating parts including the Petite Trianon, so check the website before you go.
The Academy of Equestrian Arts
Our last day in Versailles started at The Equestrian Academy, the formal stables of the French Kings which, at that time, housed over 600 horses. This building was also designed by Jules Mansart, architect of Chateau Versailles. In 2002, the stables were turned back to their original purpose under the direction of world-renowned horseman Bartabas to promote the sport of dressage in an International Academy. We watched the morning training sessions which are open to the public Tuesdays through Sundays (except in July and September, when it is only open on Saturdays and Sundays). The price is 8 euros ($10). There are also special evening musical performances. For advance reservations, e-mail to email@example.com. The wood paneled rectangular arena was the most beautiful I have ever seen, complete with 15 glass Murano chandeliers. The three horses showcased that morning were each being trained by its personal equestrian to the rhythm of classical music. Bartabas believes that the relationship of the horse to the rider is the most important element, and it was clear which rider had developed the relationship in the training session. We toured the stables and the gift shop, where new horses are kept so they can get accustomed to the public. I wish my niece Amanda had been with me, to share this special experience. For more information, the website address is Academieduspectalceequestre.com.
Les Grandes Eaux Musicales at Chateau Versailles
We literally walked across the street back to Chateau Versailles, to catch the 11 am water fountain show set to classical music. The formal gardens (designed by Andre’ Le Notre for King Louis XIV in 1662) take up 850 hectares and include mirror pools of water to "mirror" the sky. Just strolling among the magnificent gardens listening to the music was exhilarating. The shows take place from April through September. This, along with Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes, a modern musical dance set to loud rock music and performed on a floating stage at night were two incredible experiences. Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes take place Saturday nights during summer. Each year a different choreographer and director take on a new theme. This year it was about The Infant Queen, the royal Spanish child who was sent to be Louis XIV’s bride and then returned after several years! The costumes were spectacular and the music combined with dancing was very poignant. Last year the horses from The Equestrian Academy performed. A long fireworks display ended the magical evening. Sitting in the bleachers on a warm summer night, watching the musical performance that combined French history, art and culture made being in the three hundred-year-old garden incredibly moving.
Lunch at La Petite Venise
We had lunch in Chateau Versailles Park at La Petite Venise, a lively, moderately priced restaurant in the old boat house that once housed the King’s Venetian gondoliers and oarsmen. The food was wonderful and the gift shop next door is a little gem. To book an advanced reservation, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Versailles is so special, I can’t do it justice by describing it in 2000 words. Elfie Majoie can arrange an inclusive tour for you, the website is VersaillesRegion.com. And of course, you can do it yourself. Whatever way you go, just go! It is a place that requires at least three days. A great thing about it is you never need a car. Everything can be accessed by foot. The train goes straight from the airport or from Paris. If you do rent a car, stay tuned for my next article: The Chateaus of Yvelines, all very close to Versailles and Paris. Bon Chance!
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