Versailles Gardens highlights
At the far end of the palace gardens, the Grand Canal begins. The canal is a huge lake, really, built in the shape of a cross. It extends 1.5 kilometers. You can rent a rowboat for some cruising, but beware: the canal is so wide that on a windy day a chop builds easily.
Recently opened are the Grand Trianon and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate, connected to the Queen’s Hamlet and the Chevreloup Arboretum. This complex of gardens and estate chateaux spreads out northeast of the Versailles Palace. It will take you 25 minutes to walk between the two estates. What Versailles says by its male-dominated inspiration and themes is contrasted nicely with those of Marie-Antoinette’s (and Madame de Pompadour’s) feminine themes, her refinement, and Enlightenment-inspired theories on living and freedom. By comparison, Marie Antoinette’s estate shows a flair to arboreal design, taking the structure of formal gardens as a base from which to let her hair down to flow in the breeze.
Food and Drinks at the Versailles Estates
The lower level in the gardens has four outdoor tent cafés and cold-drink kiosks. They are nicely hidden within a couple of the less-adorned groves, but still have pretty settings. Two formal café-restaurants are at the right-hand base of the canal. La Flotilla is in an old stone building inside a courtyard surrounded by trees. La Petite Venise is just up the path, with views onto the canal at the boathouse landing.
Oddly, perhaps, the Versailles Heritage Board requests that no one picnic in the park, which puts a damper on the real nature lovers, but I see their point when you consider how large this park estate is and the costs to both its beauty and cleaning personnel to assure no rubbish lies about. That being the warning, there are in fact two picnic areas: one behind the right wing of the palace, next to the cloak room (with a view of fountains and Neptune’s Basin); the other far, far away, in a field along the path outside the Queen’s Hamlet (Marie-Antoinette’s Estate).
I don’t talk much about toilet facilities, because city parks will always have at least one. I must commend Versailles for its appreciation of people’s needs. While the palace itself has just one toilet area that has a perpetual line, the gardens have toilets at or near each of the four cafés.
Outside the Versailles Palace and Estates
Versailles is a Paris suburb, and while there is some interesting architecture through the neighborhood, the raisson d’etre of a Versailles visit is the palace and park estates. If you find yourself starving between the palace and the train station, there is a courtyard across the street from the train station with some pretty good lunchtime restaurants (pizza & Italian; Spanish; French). Jump to Paris city page.
Directions to Versailles Palace
The quickest, most comfortable, and cheapest way to Versailles is by rail, no more than 30 minutes from central Paris. By SNCF Railway from Paris, take the Versailles-Chantiers route from Montparnasse, or the Versailles-Rive Droite route from Saint-Lazare. By RER (regional commuter), take the Versailles-Rive Gauche on the “C” line.
(return to the Versailles Gardens main page)