26 Nov The Estate of Versailles: Five amazing things you may not have heard about
Far from the beaten track, discover five unusual activities to do in the Estate of Versailles.
Discover the Estate’s wooded groves
In addition to its luxurious apartments, the Palace of Versailles is also known for its beautiful gardens. Every year, millions of visitors stroll along the park’s main alley, skirting the famous Latona and Apollo ornamental lakes before heading to the Estate of Trianon. It’s a visit that unfortunately leaves little time to explore the many wooded groves nestled in the heart of the extensive maze-like Estate.
These small nooks, like the Grove of Enceladus, are definitely worth seeing. In this particular grove there’s a large statue of Enceladus being crushed under rocks by the Gods of Olympus after the failure of his revolt. This monument is an allegory for the fall of Fouquet, the King’s superintendent who was dismissed and imprisoned for his overarching ambition and whose great home inspired the Palace of Versailles, back when the Kings were still living inside the Louvre.
Symbolically, the sculpture’s jet of water is the highest in the Estate. This was Louis XIV’s way of drawing attention to the fountain, and by doing so warning any potential opponents of the fate that awaited anyone guilty of treason.
The Colonnade is another magnificent grove, which, as its name suggests, consists of a circular construction composed of 32 marble columns. It’s a timeless space, isolated from the hustle and bustle of the Palace yet located not too far away. During the Grandes Eaux de Versailles (Fountains Shows), the thirty or so fountains under the arches of this open-air setting come to life, each in its own turn, in a poetic and soothingly choreographed display.
See a show at the Royal Opera
Inaugurated on the 16th of May, 1770, the Royal Opera is one of the Estate’s most beautiful architectural achievements. This large theatre, initiated by King Louis XIV and finalized by Louis XV, is found at the end of the North Wing. The location had two important advantages: the inclination of the terrain which permitted the installation of voluminous technical equipment under the stage and its proximity to a large pool of water normally used to supply the fountains, which would prove useful in the case of fire.
Used as a theatre, dining room and ballroom, the building was nonetheless quickly abandoned. Its decline was in part due to its high operating costs. The French revolution, which took place less than two decades after its inauguration, didn’t help either. Despite later modifications, especially during the reign of Louis-Philippe in the nineteenth century, the theatre was rarely used.
It was not until 1990 that the Opera reopened. During the renovation work, the renovation team undid the changes made a hundred years earlier, removing the fragments of faux marble and various paintings in order to restore the establishment to its former appearance.
The Opera now hosts over one hundred artistic performances a year. It is possible to attend concerts, recitals, plays or ballets by booking at the Palace of Versailles ticket office.
Discover the Coach Gallery
Located opposite the Palace of Versailles, the Coach Gallery is an exhibition space showing the means by which the Kings, Emperors and the Great Aristocracy travelled around. It is possible to admire the wedding carriage of Napoleon I, the coronation carriage of Charles X or the funeral carriage of Louis XVIII.
The carriages, all lined up in a long corridor, are each true works of art in their own right, whose design had to please the sovereigns’ extravagant and ostentatious tastes. The greatest craftsmen of the time participated in the construction of these exceptional gilded and sculpture-covered vehicles.
This collection of old Berlins, which can be visited for free, was put together by Louis-Philippe in 1831, when he transformed the Palace of Versailles into a large museum dedicated “To all the glories of France”. The collection was originally on display at the Trianon Estate, before being moved next to the Great Stable, its current location.
Start your day with breakfast at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant
Take advantage of your visit to Versailles to kill two birds with the one stone by combining beautiful architecture with refined gastronomy. Located in a 17th century pavilion, not far from the main entrance to the Palace, is head chef Alain Ducasse’s Ore Restaurant. It opens directly onto a marble courtyard, decorated with black and white tiles and where many events were held during the reign of the kings.
The restaurant offers a full gourmet menu at a relatively affordable price. Before starting your visit, a good French breakfast there is highly recommended. Consisting of pastries, hot drinks, fruit juice and fresh vegetables, a good breakfast is the perfect preparation for the long hours of walking necessary to visit the royal domain.
It is possible to directly book both the Ore restaurant and your priority ticket to the Palace of Versailles on the FastPassTours website.
Participate in the Palace of Versailles’ Grand Masked Ball.
Put on your period costume, adjust your wig and get ready to travel back in time. Each year, the Grand Masked Ball (Grand Bal Masqué) brings together nearly two hundred people for an exclusive evening at the heart of the Orangerie, in the gardens of the Palace.
The event, which is held once a year in June, includes a buffet dinner, a magnificent show and a dance party in the Ballroom grove, from where the guests can see the fountains of the Estate in a cleverly orchestrated play of lights.
It’s an incredible opportunity to discover the Palace of Versailles outside of opening hours while enjoying a slightly off-the-wall but unmissable evening. In order to participate, period dress is the rule. Don’t worry though, many sewing shops in Paris and in the Paris region offer custom-made rental and tailoring of quality period costumes.
Book your ticket for the next edition by visiting the Palace of Versailles’ ticket office.