“Is that what everyone told you to do? Well, they are wrong. I’ll tell you how to really do it.”
I was stunned when the man at the concierge desk at our Versailles hotel said these words to us. I had done research! Read books! Checked websites! Studied reviews! And everyone said you had to get to the main chateau as early in the morning as possible to beat the crowds.
“The problem is, everyone else is doing that as well. So my advice to you is, go backwards.”
Go backwards? At this point it was nearly 10am. We had taken three trains and a long walk to get to the hotel. We dropped our bags off and were ready to hit the ground running at Versailles this morning- after all, we had already preordered and printed our full access tickets and were prepared to follow the next piece of advice about touring Versailles, which was Get There Early. We decided to stop at the concierge desk only to be sure we knew the most efficient route to the palace and subsequently ran into the best advice we had ever been given.
The man explained that our choice of hotel (Trianon Palace Versailles hotel) and our “intelligent decision” to have preprinted our tickets meant that we had a great leg up on many other tourists. Most people arrive at the front gate with no ticket, must queue to buy one, and then begin their day right where they are, at the main palace. However, just a hop and skip away from our hotel’s front door is a back gate that leads into the gardens. You can only get through this gate if you have preprinted tickets with garden access, and it puts you in the perfect position to wander through the gardens on your way to the chateau. This is a great thing, for a few reasons.
- Since most people start at the main palace and head straight inside, the gardens will not be crowded at all.
- After those people finish at the palace they will head for the gardens, so you have the potential to tour the palace at its least crowded time.
- There will be no queues at this gate, because you cannot purchase tickets there and many people don’t know it exists.
- Many of the beautiful fountains in the garden shut off around noon, so they will be empty and inanimate for guests who see them later.
- The temperature will only get hotter as this August day wears on, so you can spend the cooler morning out in the gardens and the hottest part of the day in the shade of the palace.
After following this man’s advice, it seemed obvious. Maybe to some other people, it was obvious from the start. But for us it was a surprise, a game changer, and a great secret that we were delighted to know.
The gardens were lovely, and we did find many fountains still up and running as we wandered. After lunch when we finally headed for the main palace, it was nearly 3pm. Droves and droves of people were walking toward us and we were obviously going against traffic. But what we found when we arrived at the chateau was a 45 second queue to get in and a whole lot of breathing room once we got inside. The horror stories I had read online about wall to wall people and claustrophobic conditions were way off base, even for a Saturday in the height of tourism season.
The main palace is one of the grandest and most opulent buildings I have ever been inside of. It was originally meant to be a hunting lodge for Louis XIII, but his son Louis XIV transformed it in the 1670s by expanding it to a grand palace. The iconic Hall of Mirrors came along a little bit later, and even more years passed before Louis XV added some of his own final touches, most notably the chapel and the opera. It was the official seat of power until the late 18th century and later became the Museum of the History of France. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most popular tourist attractions in France. The epic gardens, the Grand Trianon, and the Marie Antoinette Estate help make the chateau complex a vast attraction with lots to see.
The crowds that are drawn to this site can be intimidating, but using the little secret from the hotel’s concierge desk made our day there one of the most pleasant of our whole trip.
This post took a drastic turn from my last post about the ruins of Rheinfels Castle in Germany. The two posts together just go to show that beauty comes in many different forms!