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Grand prestige

The Palace of Versailles

When I was in school I learned how splendidly King Louis XIV (1638–1715) lived, but I only realized what this really meant after I found out that you actually need two days to see everything at his Palace of Versailles. On an average day, even the queue in front of the palace is very impressive, for which reason you are well advised to first visit the huge gardens, the Grand Trianon and Marie-Antoinette’s intimate Petit Trianon and proceed to the palace in the afternoon, by which time the majority of visitors have moved outside. Inside you’ll find highlights such as the Royal Chapel with a Clicquot organ, the King’s state apartments with Bernini’s bust of the Roi-Soleil himself, the Hall of Mirrors (where the proclamation of the German Empire took place and where the Treaty of Versailles was signed) and the King’s bedchamber in his private apartments, which was used for the elaborate lever & coucher ceremonies. Our eldest daughter hated the gruesome pictures in the Gallery of Great Battles.

The Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles
The Hall of Mirrors

Last year, almost 7¾ million people visited the palace, but so far no one considered it a good idea to open the palace on Mondays to balance the visitor load. The gardens are always open and access is free, except on days that they want to make some extra money. Access to the estate is € 20 (or € 25 for two days) for adults; children and EU citizens under 26 go free. On fountain days there is a garden surcharge of € 7 for adults and € 8 for children. Music days are a scam: to visit the gardens, a famille nombreuse with four children has to pay an additional € 42 to hear occasional scraps of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s music played from speakers along the Allée Royale. On the days that SNCF is not on strike (‘grève’), RER railway line C to Versailles Château Rive Gauche is the most convenient way to get to the palace. On other days you’ll have to catch the № 171 bus, which runs from the Pont de Sèvres metro station. (With a 10-pack of Billet Île-de-France tickets five people can travel to & from Versailles for the price of four.)

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Versailles offers an annual pass for € 80 that allows you to bring one guest, which is advantageous for three-day and longer visits, and that entitles you to no-queue admission to the palace. (Égalité is a great concept, but some are more equal than others.)