9. Last Entry: Versailles Tour After the Crowds
Step inside one of Europe’s most opulent buildings on this fully-guided tour of the Palace of Versailles. From the immense fountains that punctuate Louis XIV’s gardens to the splendor of the King’s and Queen’s Apartments and the incomparable Hall of Mirrors, this tour immerses you in the sights, stories, gossip, and legends of France’s lost age of splendor. Head to the outskirts of Paris, where Louis XIII first built a hunting lodge that was later extended by his son into the royal palace you see today.
In order to retain some of the bucolic feel of his father’s lodge, the Sun King set aside nearly 2,000 acres for gardens and even sketched out a strict plan for how they should be visited. Your tour will begin these gardens, but don’t worry, you don’t have to follow Louis’ plan. Instead, you’ll learn how these came to be considered the epitome of the French style of gardens that you can still see all over the world. You’ll also get the story of how Louis snatched his garden designer off another project essentially out of jealousy. As you go, your guide will point out details like the various symbols of the Greek sun god, Apollo, which Louis used all over the grounds as a reference to, well, himself. The highlights of the gardens are the immense fountains, which are packed with beautiful statuary and run on a system of gravity-driven hydraulics that has not changed since they were first installed. If you are visiting during the week you’ll only see the architecture of the fountains, but if you go on the weekend you’ll witness their full grandeur when they are turned on — water spouts from them just as it did over 300 years ago.
After the gardens, you’ll enjoy skip-the-line entrance into the palace itself. It’s the final entrance of the day so Versailles will be as peaceful as you can get it without renting it for a private function (which is possible, but as your guide will tell you, it’s pretty expensive). This enormous palace wasn’t just a home for the King. In its heyday, it was a literal gilded cage for thousands of nobles whom Louis kept here for much of the year to make sure they weren’t plotting against him. As you go from one unimaginably decadent room to the next, your guide will bring the palace to life with stories of courtly intrigue and royal plots, while also giving you insight into the everyday lives of the people who lived here (it may not be as glamorous as you expect). On your small group tour you will visit the most famous and impressive rooms in the palace, from the Royal private apartments, where the last of the Bourbon monarchs lived out their private lives; to the public state apartments, like the War Room and Peace room, which hosted balls, concerts, and political functions. The most stunning of them all is the Hall of Mirrors, which is packed with so much art, symbolism, and imagery, your guide will make sure to spend extra time there helping you decode it all. This is one of, if not the greatest and most ostentatious throne room ever created, and it’s packed with diplomatic history. Be sure to ask lots of questions and soak it all up. Since you entered the chateau from the back, you’ll leave from the front, making your last view of Versailles also the most impressive.