Versailles was never just a royal home. This was France’s seat of government at the height of its power, built to dazzle subjects and foreigners alike, as well as amplifying the majesty of the king. Extravagant court ceremony, vicious politicking, religious devotion, revolution – Versailles saw them all, and one day is never enough to hear its stories, and appreciate its artistic and horticultural triumphs. At a time of year when crowds are few, we spend four days considering every aspect of this vast national hub in the company of Professor Tony Spawforth, author of Versailles: A Biography of a Palace. We also examine Vaux-le-Vicomte, the château that inspired it.
Our coach leaves the Gare du Nord in Paris at 2pm for the transfer to Versailles. Our late-afternoon walking tour introduces the palace, and considers Jules Hardouin-Mansart’s monumental and disciplined western façade, as well as the more heterogeneous eastern face – based around Louis XIII’s original hunting lodge. We return to the hotel for a lecture, followed by dinner together.
A day of spectacular interiors, pomp and majesty. We explore the Grands Appartements, including the Hall of Mirrors – probably the most famous room in Europe – as well as the royal chapel, opera house and private apartments of Louis XV and XVI. Paintings, sculpture and applied arts combine with a powerful sense of history to overwhelming effect. In-between, we take a break to see the Grandes Eaux Musicales in the gardens.
We begin at the Potager du Roi, the King’s kitchen garden. Its first director, Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie, pushed 17th-century gardening techniques to the limit to produce asparagus in December and strawberries in March for Louis XIV’s table. We also tour the Domaine de Trianon – the refuge from the pressures of court first developed by Louis XIV, but made famous by Marie Antoinette.
The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte was built for Louis XIV’s Superintendent of Finances, Nicolas Fouquet, who was later arrested for embezzlement. The king transferred the team responsible for this beautiful house and park to Versailles, to build his own palace. Amongst the ground-breaking innovations at Vaux-le-Vicomte was France’s first great formal garden. We spend the day at the château, before returning to the Gare du Nord in Paris, where the trip ends by 5pm.
£990 per person sharing in a double room.
£1,110 for one person in a double room.
The price includes the speaker and a tour manager, accommodation with daily breakfasts, one dinner with wine, local guides, admissions to sites as mentioned in the itinerary.
Please note trains or flights are not included.
Hôtel la Résidence du Berry, Versailles (3 stars).
Both palace and gardens are vast. Expect a lot of walking and standing.
Between 5 and 25 participants. Departure guaranteed.
Please check www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice before you book to make sure you are happy with the advice for the places you are visiting.