I knew I wanted to go on a day trip to Versailles on my most recent trip to Paris, but the question was how? Should I do it on my own and try to cover the grounds on foot? Will I be able to see it all? Should I join a guided walking tour to learn about the history? Should I visit by coach, segway, or bus? There are so many options!
Then just as I was debating what to do I discovered Fat Tire Paris through the world of Twitter. They had a full day biking tour which included transportation to Versailles, a guided tour of the Royal Grounds, admission to the palace, and free time for everyone to explore on their own at the end of the day. I liked the sound of having a guide but also having time to discover the place for myself, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip to Paris – though technically this doesn’t count as Paris.
Here’s a look at what my day trip to Versailles looked like:
Shopping for picnic items at the Versailles Market
After taking the train from Paris to Versailles, our first stop of the day was the Versailles Market where we stocked up on items for our picnic. We had 45 minutes to choose what we wanted to have for lunch, so we all dispersed in the direction of the nearest fromagerie, charcuterie, and patisserie.
By the time we met up again, our arms were full of baguettes, wine bottles, salamis, and bags full of pastries. I had a quick snack while we waited for the group (we all know I’m a big fan of second breakfast), and then we put everything in our bike baskets and rode on to Versailles. Also, can I just say the the city of Versailles is a charming and colourful little place!
Once we reached the gates of Versailles, it was time for a history lesson to hear how exactly this palace came to be. We learned that what started out as a small village, eventually grew into the King’s hunting lodge, and expanded into a château, before becoming the monstrosity of a palace that it is today. If we are judging Versailles based on the total area of its property, or royal domain, then it takes the title as the world’s largest palace.
Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet
From there we biked on to the Petit Trianon, which would have been where Marie Antoinette came when she needed an escape from court life in Versailles. The Petit Trianon was her own personal domain, and she could even refuse her husband, King Louis XVI, entry if she didn’t feel like seeing him.
Just behind the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette also her own personal hamlet. Since she wasn’t too familiar with the realities of 18th century peasant life, she viewed it as quite idyllic and had a little village constructed for her personal enjoyment. A series of cottages and farm houses were built for her around a small lake, and real peasants were hired to come play the role of peasants in her village. They pulled the weeds in her yard, fed the chickens, milked the cows, and grew vegetables, but it was all an illusion to help her, the Queen of France, feel a bit closer to nature.
Our guide called it a “Disney World” and it’s easy to see why. The cottages in the village look picture perfect, but the interiors were never finished because no one was meant to live inside them.
Inside the Petit Trianon, we also visited the Temple of Love. Even though it’s rumoured the temple was built for Count Axel von Fersen, Marie Antoinette’s speculated lover, our guide explained that it was actually built to celebrate the birth of Marie Antoinette’s first child. (I guess that’s not a juicy enough story, so that’s why Count Fersen’s name always gets tossed around.)
A picnic lunch by the Grand Canal
By the time we finished visiting the Petit Trianon, the Queen’s Hamlet, and the Grand Trianon, it was starting to get close to lunch time, so we started biking to our picnic spot. Getting there involved riding down beautiful tree-lined boulevards, and catching a glimpse of Versailles from the very end of the Grand Canal. We then found a shaded shaded spot under the trees and finally got to try all the food we had purchased earlier. It was the perfect way to unwind after a morning of biking.
Going inside Versailles
I’m not going to lie to you – inside Versailles it was pure madness! It was the middle of summer in Paris and crowds are to be expected. Even though we had a timed ticket to go inside, we were still shoulder to shoulder like canned sardines. But that being said, you don’t come all the way to Versailles and not set foot inside, now do you?
There was a bit of a laugh out loud moment as Sam and I were leaving Versailles after our visit. There was another couple exiting ahead of us and the wife clearly still wanted to see more, “but it’s so pretty”, she implored her husband, to which he replied, “I don’t give a shit. I’m done with this place!” and he stormed off in a fit. I can’t blame him since it was close to 40 Celsius out and we were stuck in a mass of people, but it was a pretty funny way to finish off the day.
Here’s a little video of our day trip to Versailles:
Have you taken a day trip to Versailles?
Picnic by the canal sounds very exciting 🙂
One of the highlights of the day. 🙂
Versailles looks stunning and visiting it by bike sounds like such a great idea! Also picnics in Versailles? Sign me up! Great post, loved the history element!
The picnic was delicious! It was a nice way to unwind after a morning of biking.
Hi, I really love your bag in the pictures. What brand is it?
Oh I also love reading your blog posts. Each time I receive an email I can’t wait to open it and see what you have written. 🙂 Peta
Hi Peta, I got my purse in Peru. It’s from an artisans market called “Mercado del Indio” in Lima.
Took the tour. What an accurate recollection of the trip. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks Madelaine! I hope you also enjoyed your visit.
Looks like a lot of fun except for the 40 celcius heat! 😉 Would love to explore the surroundings of grand canal, but maybe not the inside of Versailles.
The grounds are beautiful and it feels so tranquil along the banks of the canal, but you do have to brace yourself to go inside. 😉
I had never thought of doing Versailles by bike. I just remember my poor feet, all those many years ago! Eek. The little village is insane, but she’s probably not all that out of touch to many of the extremely wealthy today. Goes to show that throughout history, people are just people. Thanks for sharing.
I’m so glad I did it by bike, I don’t think my feet would have carried me all over the grounds. I didn’t realize how big the parks and gardens were until I arrived there.
I see you have a few ceiling shots as well – I ended up with pretty much only ceiling shots because the palace was so crowded when I visited! They allow too many people in.
Haha, yup, it was the only way to get a decent photo. And I agree with you, they really do let too many people in, even with the timed tickets; at times it felt a bit claustrophobic in there. I guess that’s what happens when you visit one of the most famed palaces in the world.
versailles tour excellent idea and i like the fact that you had your own time to explore alone
A visit to Versailles is very high on my to-do list and has now been heightened even more. I can’t believe that I still haven’t been. Lovely photos that have let me know just what I am missing so many thanks for sharing.
I also did Fat Tire Paris’ bike tour of Versailles and just loved the whole experience. What’s not to like about a picnic by the water, great stories about the grounds and people who lived there as well as a unique way to see it all? Glad to see I’m not the only one who enjoyed this awesome activity!