After arriving in Paris later than expected, we debated whether we should still devote an entire day to Versailles. With so much on our list to see in Paris, we started to think it might be better to spend the morning at Versailles and head back into the city for the afternoon instead.
Then we woke up to a perfectly clear blue sky…
…and all thoughts of shortening our trip to Versailles went right out the hotel window.
Anyone familiar with Paris in the spring would likely agree that blue skies and sunshine are a bit of a rarity, to say the least. When I visited for the first time in 2007, the forecast said it would be 50 degrees and sunny, and I packed accordingly. The reality? A full week of 30-degree temperatures, clouds and rain. I ended up wearing the same long-sleeved shirt and jacket nearly every day.
This trip, we came prepared for the chill. But when an unexpectedly mild day rolled around, we both wanted to explore every inch of Versailles, from the chateau to the gardens. There was so much to see and experience, and once again after reading Abundance I felt an urge to walk everywhere Marie Antoinette had walked and enjoy the splendor that was her everyday life for many years.
But backing up just a bit, the walk from our hotel to the train station that morning was fantastic. We passed by the Flame of Liberty, which is a replica of the flame from our own Statue of Liberty and has also come to be an unofficial memorial for Princess Diana.
Pont de l’Alma also happens to offer one of my favorite views of the Eiffel Tower along the Seine. On this clear and beautiful day, it made for a perfect picture.
But perhaps the most exciting part of the morning was having the chance to revisit Le Moulin de la Vierge, which I would argue is the absolute best boulangerie in Paris.
Back in 2007, my friend Caitlin and I practically cleaned them out of pain viennois, the French equivalent of Vienna bread. There is something about pain viennois that puts it a step above croissants and baguettes, in my personal opinion. It’s as rich and buttery as a croissant, but has a smoother texture that makes it less flaky and more melt-in-your-mouth. The taste is also a bit sweeter. And although it looks like a baguette, the crust is soft and chewy.
Have I talked it up enough? I certainly did to Bobby, but he ultimately loved pain viennois, too.
We shared a baguette version as well as a small pain viennois aux pépites de chocolat – with chocolate chips. The chocolate was dark and equally melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
With breakfast in tow, we hopped aboard the RER. The train ride takes about 35 minutes, and along the way you get a glimpse of some of the more industrial parts of Paris, as well as the homes and apartment buildings located on the outskirts of the city. Once we reached the Versailles stop, we walked a couple of blocks, turned the corner and were greeted by Louis XIV’s gilded masterpiece.
The Sun King definitely knew how to make an impression.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the details of the chateau itself. We began our tour there and were greeted by several portraits of Louis and his future predecessors – Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette included – upon entering.
We then made our way to the Royal Chapel, where every morning Louis XIV and his court would attend mass. It is also where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were married. The chairs make it even easier to imagine what it must have looked like.
From there we continued our tour of the King’s Grand Apartment, which includes the Abundance, Venus, Diana, Mars, Mercury and Apollo Salons. There are incredible stories to each of them that we heard while listening to our Rick Steves podcast. The Mercury Salon in particular was Louis’ official – but not actual – bedroom, where he would rise each morning to greet his subjects from a canopied bed similar to the one below. Everything about Louis XIV was a public ritual, and he liked it that way.
Of course, one of the most exciting and famous rooms in the chateau is the Hall of Mirrors!
No one had ever seen anything like this hall when it was opened, mainly because mirrors were among the most expensive items to have in the 17th century. Although they are a bit faded now, as to be expected, the room is no less grand. The arched mirrors and corresponding windows, the glass chandeliers, the gilded candelabras, the painted ceilings – everything was in “abundance.”
The importance of the room transcends time. In 1871, Otto von Bismarck established the German Empire in this room. And in 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end WWI. We had to snap a fuzzy picture with one of the mirrors that has “seen” it all, just so we could say we did.
After the awe-inspiring Hall of Mirrors, we visited the Queen’s Grand Apartment. The bedchamber was my favorite. This was where many queens, Marie Antoinette included, slept and spent much of their time. It is also where 19 children were born.
It was cool to see the secret doors that were discussed in Abundance. When the palace was invaded in 1789, Marie Antoinette escaped from rioters through one of these doors, which provided access to her internal apartments. Those rooms were reserved for her private life and servants.
We also saw the Nobles Salon, Guard Room and antechamber, where public meals were held.
Once our tour of the enormous chateau had concluded, we entered the gardens. As you can see, there is a large portion of it under construction right now. But the view was spectacular, especially with Louis XIV’s man-made lake in the distance.
As we made our way to the lake, we passed several marble statues. This one is Diogène of Sinope.
We also passed a small line of people outside La Buvette du Dauphin, which offered takeaway food and refreshments. A picnic at Versailles? Don’t mind if we do!
We picked out a pair of “Venice” paninis, which were made with tomatoes, mozzarella and ham. Then we walked down toward the Apollo Basin and found an open bench right next door.
The panini was fantastic, and we also shared a small bottle of Blaissac Bordeaux wine.
We happened to visit Versailles on a day with the fountain shows and musical gardens, which means that all the fountains were turned on and music was playing everywhere. It was so peaceful to be able to dine al fresco while enjoying the sounds of both a water and an instrumental orchestra.
There were also boats available for rental. We decided not to rent one only because there was so much we wanted to see on foot, but it looked like a lot of fun.
Our first stop in the gardens after lunch: Le Petite Trianon!
Yet again I was so excited to see it in person after reading Abundance. Marie Antoinette used Le Petite Trianon as her getaway from duties at the palace. The rooms were furnished to look as they may have back in her time – I can practically see her playing the harp for admirers.
I was also majorly impressed by the kitchen. Can I cook in here, please?
And the billiard room featured a portrait and bust of my (obvious) favorite queen.
Next we visited the Temple of Love, where Marie Antoinette and her friends would hang out on particularly warm days. Underneath the columns and dome is a statue of Cupid cutting his bow from the club of Hercules, preparing to shoot arrows of love.
Then there was the Queen’s Hamlet.
Simply beautiful. The hamlet was hands down our favorite sight at Versailles.
It was built to make Marie Antoinette feel as though she was living in the “fairytale” world of the country – not to be confused with the reality of the peasant lifestyle, which was harsh and absolutely nothing like this. The 12 buildings that comprised her village were actual working farms that included a dairy, watermill, perfumed sheep – yes, you read that right – and manicured gardens.
Finally we arrived at the Grand Trianon, which was built for Louis XIV as a retreat from the chateau, which was built for Louis XIV as a retreat from Paris. Just try to make sense of that one. The pink marble facade was gorgeous.
The interior was glamorous with rich colors, from bright blues and yellows to deep reds and greens.
Recapping Versailles makes me realize all over again how grand it is. As we exited Marie Antoinette’s estate, we stopped to enjoy a few more of the fountain shows around the gardens. The Colonnade was particularly beautiful – Versailles had no actual ancient ruins, so why not build some?
The fountains are all fed by gravity. Underground streams from the Seine pump into small pipes at the fountain base. It’s truly impressive that pressure can make these streams of water shoot so high.
We enjoyed one more fountain show near the chateau before heading back to the train station.
Once back in Paris proper, we made our way to the Latin Quarter. Our stomachs were growling after all that walking, so we picked up a pair of Nutella crepes along the way – our first of several crepe stops over the next day and a half!
We also peeked into the Luxembourg Garden. Unfortunately it was closing as we arrived, but it was still cool to look through the trees and watch another sunset in Paris.
Then we turned and saw the Panthéon looming in the distance.
It was gorgeous up close.
We also passed by Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, which had impressive purple doors. I had no idea until writing this post that this also happens to be the church whose steps are featured in Midnight in Paris (where Owen Wilson sits before he goes back in time). Now I appreciate them even more!
Speaking of Midnight in Paris and going back in time, it was on this walk that I had my Paris Wife moment. Below is the first apartment of Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson!
The blue door at 74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine certainly looked old enough to be the same door that Ernest and Hadley came and went through during their time here. I loved it. Bobby laughed at me for taking way too many pictures of an apartment now rented by someone else.
It was then time for our first full meal in Paris. My bestie Sam recommended Les Fêtes Galantes to us, and it lived up to everything she had promised. The interior was full of letters, business cards and photos of past customers who felt the same way.
Immediately upon being seated, we were given an amuse-bouche that consisted of a flaky pastry filled with meat and topped with sesame seeds. It was warm and delicious.
We ordered another bottle of Bordeaux wine after enjoying our small taste at lunch. This one was from Chateau Dallau. It was another winner!
The prix-fixe menu was 17.50 euros, or roughly $24.00, and included a starter, entrée and dessert. For my appetizer, I had to go with the French onion soup. But of course, here it was just called “onion soup with cheese.” The real deal was fantastic!
For my main dish, I chose the grilled chicken with pesto, which was served with a side of fresh vegetables. It was perfectly flavored with just enough sauce on top – two thumbs up.
For dessert, Bobby chose the chocolate mousse with passion fruits. Love the mouse design.
I went with the homemade apple tart with almonds. Both of these were a hit.
A fellow American – and Chicagoan – seated next to us offered to take a photo. See what I mean about the decorated walls? We ended up leaving one of my old (and bright pink) POP! Social Media cards with a thank-you note. If you ever dine here, you can look for us in the far right corner.
Our last stop of the evening before making our way back to the hotel was Shakespeare and Company. Although this was not the original location frequented by Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the like, it has its own great history.
I loved the “help feed the starving writers” donation pit.
And of course, I had to snap a picture of this typewriter.
The bookstore is only steps away from Notre Dame, which was beautiful at night.
And with that, we said au revoir to an extremely full but fulfilling day two.