Fodor's Expert Review Château de Versailles

Versailles Castle/Palace/Chateau Fodor's Choice

A two-century spree of indulgence by the consecutive reigns of three French kings produced two of the world's most historic landmarks: gloriously, the Palace of Versailles and, momentously, the French Revolution. Less a monument than a world unto itself, Versailles is the king of palaces. The end result of countless francs, 40 years, and 36,000 laborers, it was Louis XIV's monument to himself—the Sun King. Construction of the sprawling palace and gardens, which Louis personally and meticulously oversaw, started in 1661 and took 40 years to complete. Today the château seems monstrously big, but it wasn't large enough for the army of 20,000 noblemen, servants, and hangers-on who moved in with Louis. A new city—a new capital, in fact—had to be constructed from scratch to accommodate them.

One of the palace highlights is the dazzling Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors). Lavish balls were once held here, as was a later event with much greater world impact: the signing of the... READ MORE

A two-century spree of indulgence by the consecutive reigns of three French kings produced two of the world's most historic landmarks: gloriously, the Palace of Versailles and, momentously, the French Revolution. Less a monument than a world unto itself, Versailles is the king of palaces. The end result of countless francs, 40 years, and 36,000 laborers, it was Louis XIV's monument to himself—the Sun King. Construction of the sprawling palace and gardens, which Louis personally and meticulously oversaw, started in 1661 and took 40 years to complete. Today the château seems monstrously big, but it wasn't large enough for the army of 20,000 noblemen, servants, and hangers-on who moved in with Louis. A new city—a new capital, in fact—had to be constructed from scratch to accommodate them.

One of the palace highlights is the dazzling Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors). Lavish balls were once held here, as was a later event with much greater world impact: the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which put an end to World War I on June 28, 1919. The Grands Appartements (State Apartments) are whipped into a lather of decoration, with painted ceilings, marble walls, parquet floors, and canopy beds topped with ostrich plumes. The Petits Appartements (Private Apartments), where the royal family and friends lived, are on a more human scale, lined with 18th-century gold and white rococo boiseries. The Opéra Royal, the first oval hall in France, was designed for Louis XV and inaugurated in 1770 for the marriage of 15-year-old Louis XVI to 14-year-old Austrian archduchess Marie-Antoinette. Considered the finest 18th-century opera house in Europe at the time (with acoustics to match), it is now a major venue for world-class performers. Completed in 1701 in the Louis XIV style, the Appartements du Roi (King's Apartments) comprise a suite of 15 rooms set in a "U" around the east facade's Marble Court. The Chambre de la Reine (Queen's Bed Chamber)—once among the world's most opulent—was updated for Marie-Antoinette in the chicest style of the late 18th century. The superb Salon du Grand Couvert, antechamber to the Queen's Apartments, is the place where Louis XIV took his supper every evening at 10 o'clock. The sumptuously painted walls and ceilings, tapestries, woodwork, and even the furniture have been returned to their original splendor, making this the only one of the queen's private rooms that can be seen exactly as it was first decorated in the 1670s. The park and gardens are a great place to stretch your legs while taking in details of André Le Nôtre's formal landscaping.

Versailles's royal getaways are as impressive in their own right as the main palace. A charmer with the ladies (as Louis's many royal mistresses would attest), the Sun King enjoyed a more relaxed atmosphere in which to conduct his dalliances away from the prying eyes of the court at the Grand Trianon. But Versailles's most famous getaway, the Hameau de la Reine, was added under the reign of Louis XVI at the request of his relentlessly scrutinized wife, Marie-Antoinette. Seeking to create a simpler "country" life away from the court's endless intrigues, between 1783 and 1787, the queen had her own rustic hamlet built in the image of a charming Normandy village, complete with a mill and dairy, roving livestock, and delightfully natural gardens. One of the most visited monuments in the world, Versailles is almost always teeming, especially in the summer; try to beat the crowds by arriving at 9 am, and buying your ticket online.

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Castle/Palace/Chateau Fodor's Choice

Quick Facts

Pl. d'Armes
Versailles, Île-de-France  78000, France

-01–30–83–78–00

www.chateauversailles.fr

Sight Details:
Rate Includes: €18, all-attractions pass €25, Marie-Antoinette\'s Domain €10, park free (weekend fountain show €9, Apr.–Oct.). On 1st Sun. of month Nov.–Mar. all palace tours are free, €18, all-attractions pass €20, Marie-Antoinette\'s Domain €12, park free (weekend fountain show €10, Apr.–Oct.), Closed Mon.

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