In my travels this year, I finally got a chance to see inside the palaces at Versailles.

Orangerie at the Palace of Versailles

The last time I was at Versailles (when I was 16), the palace was closed but the gardens were open. It was a lovely experience to wander those gardens, but I did have a sense of missing something big. So this time, I made sure to take the train out there on a day they were open.

Not only did I get to see the main palace, but also the other two palaces on the property. They are far from the main entrance, so you really have to want to get there. Especially on the day I was there, which was gray and rainy and rather gloomy. Plus, as I discovered when I returned to my apartment in Paris, I experienced all the glory of the palaces and gardens with a dead insect between my toes. (Don’t ask.)

Hall of mirrors in Palace of Versailles

You start with the Palace of Versailles. Gorgeous. Ornate. Over the top. The Hall of Mirrors is just what it sounds like, to the extreme.

Then I headed to the Grand Trianon, the king’s retreat set in its own parkland. Also impressive, but taken down a notch or two from the gilt and glory of the palace.

Petit Trianon at Palace of Versailles

Off to the Petit Trianon, not from the Grand Trianon. This was designed as a retreat for the king’s mistress and eventually was an escape for Marie Antoinette. Also called a chateau. But, seriously people, this place felt like a prison compared to the other palaces. Much starker, much less ornate than the Grand Trianon, with smaller rooms, hardly a glint of gilt to be seen. The best part of the Petit Trianon is the weird Hameau de la Reine (Hamlet of the Queen), a park with rustic buildings and a lighthouse in a small lake, where Marie Antoinette would go to retreat from her retreat. You would, too (retreat from that retreat, that is). Trust me.

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