When it comes to palaces, it’s fairly safe to say that the Palace of Versailles is the gold standard. Two thousand three hundred rooms. A hall of mirrors. Two thousand acres of fountain-filled gardens. A Venetian-inspired Grand Canal, perfect for boating. Even a maze. And all that gold. It seems that whatever Louis XIV could dream up, he built it at Versailles, calling himself the Sun King, the center of his universe.
Louis XIV began construction of Versailles Palace in 1661, moving the royal palace from Paris to his father’s hunting château in Versailles. With inspiration from a grand château he had visited called Vaux-le-Vicomte, Louis XIV set out to create his vision that took 21 years to complete. Versailles remained the royal palace through the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI until the French Revolution in 1789.
The ms Sapphire was docked along the Seine in Poissy, a small French city about a 45-minute drive from Versailles. The good-weather gods were continuing to weave their magic on this first stop of our river voyage, with a lovely autumn morning and bright blue skies in Versailles. As our bus pulled into a massive parking lot, I couldn’t begin to imagine how many visitors must walk through these gates on most days, but in this emerging-from-a-pandemic time of travel, the parking lot was quite empty.
Versailles Palace Gardens
We met our guide and began our tour in the Gardens. The word breathtaking is often overused when describing scenery, but this is a place where I believe it truly applies. Symmetrically swirling lawn designs, perfectly manicured cone-shaped trees and sculpted dark green trees popping out of mint-green planter boxes mix with elegant reflecting ponds to create a scene that looks like a painting from someone’s imagination. The space has an air of formality, but yet it’s incredibly peaceful and welcoming.
The Garden continues past a large statuary-decked pond which seems to be the “backyard” of the Palace. Our guide pointed out that if you look at the Palace from this spot, you can see reflections from the Hall of Mirrors in the windows.
The Royal Drive
Further down is the Royal Drive, another over-the-top view, with the grounds of Versailles stretching out to the Grand Canal. The Greek god of the sun plays a prominent role at the Palace of the Sun King, with two Apollo-themed fountains anchoring the area. The Latona Fountain, featuring Apollo and his sister Diana with their mother Latona, is in the foreground. In the distance is the Apollo Fountain.
With some time on our own before the Palace tour began, Herb and I walked down the hill to the Apollo fountain. I was curious to see the Versailles Maze just beyond, even though we wouldn’t have time to walk through it. Our guide advised against going in, explaining that even she gets lost when she’s inside!
We rejoined our group at the Palace entrance, going through a security check before entering the first room. Despite the small crowds, it was elbow-to-elbow inside and a challenge to get good photos. Our guide sometimes stopped at various spots along the way, other times walking and talking as we made our way from room to room.
The Hunting Lodge
The tour ended at the steps at the site of the Hunting Lodge, the original section of the Palace. It’s a cozier spot – at least by Versailles standards – and less ornate, even with all the gold trimmings. The centerpiece is the clock at the top of the courtyard. A bright golden sun with twelve rays marks the time…a perfect metaphor for the Sun King and his most extraordinary palace.