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.

Walking toward Versailles Palace.
Versailles Palace Entrance and Chapel.
“To All the Glories of France.”
Top of the palace gate.

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.

Not your everyday photo op!

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.

Looking back at the Palace through a hazy sun…
…and a closer view of the reflective Hall of Mirrors.

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.

Our group’s shadows create a photographic scene along the Royal Drive.
The Latona Fountain is rich with Greek mythology, including the story of local peasants who had disrespected Latona and were turned into frogs – depicted here in gold – by Zeus. 

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!

The Apollo Fountain.
The 16-foot-high Versailles Hedge Maze.
Peeking into the Maze entrance, where apparently statues await at every turn.

Versailles Palace

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.

Versailles Palace Entry Staircase.
The Royal Chapel.
Hercules Room ceiling fresco, “The Apotheosis of Hercules” by François Lemoyne. 1733-1736.
The Room of Plenty, where Louis XIV displayed items from his “Cabinet of Curiosities.”
The Venus Room, entrance to the King’s State Apartment.
The Diana Room, another vestibule to the King’s Apartment.
The King’s Apartments: The Mars Room…
…and the Mercury Room.
The Hall of Mirrors…

Our guide explained that this was the first time mirrors were used architecturally to give light to a space.

Several of the fountains had been turned on after our tour of the Gardens. This view is  from a Hall of Mirrors window.
The King’s Bedchamber…
…and the Queen’s.
The chest on the left is the Queen’s jewelry box. Our guide told us that the hidden door disguised in the wallpaper was the door Marie Antoinette used to flee her chamber when the Palace was stormed during the French Revolution.

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.

The Hunting Lodge.
Hunting Lodge roof detail.

4 Comments

  • Wow! We had to choose between Versailles and a personal tour of more of Paris by our Uniworld-provided guide. We chose the latter and probably a good thing because everyone who went from our group got soaked. Thank you for the virtual tour, Mary.

    Robin

    • Robin, I’m happy to provide a virtual tour! It’s difficult to choose between two enticing options, isn’t it? And then there is always the issue of the weather lurking about. I think the appeal of Versailles is its gardens as much as the château. It sounds like you made a wise choice!

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