What to say about Versailles. Well, I will just say it: it was a disappointment. The main disappointment was my own fault. We visited on a day when the palace itself was closing early for some evening event. Rick Steves warned me to check the website for special events, but I did not. In effect, this meant that we did not get the privilege of standing in line for hours to tour the chateau itself. We did get to wander around the Orangerie gardens however, which were terribly disappointing. They were installing some sort of weird art in the gardens between the palace and the grand canal.
The fountains were all turned off, though Rick Steves warned us that this was the case except for on certain days. But the nice parts of the gardens were roped off or locked up. Bicycles are not allowed in the gardens near the chateau, but rental golf carts are (guess which one costs more?). Overall, this part of Versailles was a total failure.
We did take bikes around the rest of the grounds which were vast and unremarkable. We visited the Trianon palace and the Domaine de Marie Antoinette, all of which was great. The Trianon was the more private palace of Louis XIV-XVI, and Napoleon himself. It was interesting, but only in that “here is a lot of nineteenth century furniture” sort of way (the original furniture was mostly lost in the Revolution). The Petite Trianon, and the bizarre fantasy hamlet built by Marie Antoinette was great though.
The fountains were on, and the roses were blooming. The Petite Trianon maintained a lot of Marie’s personal design, and was decorated by some of the most famous portraits of the queen. Her fantasy peasant world is nicely maintained, and full of lovely animals, just as it was in her day.
This was by far the nicest part of the tour.
The rest of the grounds were vast, full of manicured trees, but essentially unremarkable. The highlight was probably watching a swan threaten an oblivious dog who wandered to close to his signets. Honestly, I am not sure I would recommend Versailles. I would have liked to see the chateau, but the lines were truly Disneyesque. Maybe the trick is to come in the off-season?