When I think of Versailles I will always think of Doctor Who. Wait, what?! Doctor Who?! Yup, forget Marie Antoinette, I remember the episode of Doctor Who with Madame de Pompadour! Le sigh, I love David Tennant as the 10th Doctor. Anyway, where we were, oh right, Versailles!
Fun fact, the house that Marie Antoinette lived in was actually built for Madame de Pompadore but alas she was exiled before she could live in it. Guess where I learned that fun fact? From Fat Tire Tours!!! I’m getting ahead of myself though, lets start at the beginning.
One can hardly think of the French court and not think of Versailles. Its a palace of opulence and is know for its grandeur. Its on MANY top 10 lists of things to do in France and is highly recommended as a day trip from Paris if you have time. As luck would have it, we had a day trip planned for just such a location. After doing a lot of research (of course) I decided the best way to get a wonderful experience was to book through Fat Tire Tours who I was already using for a tour of Notre Dam.
Here’s how the tour went down:
- Check in at the office before 9am
- Walk to the train station and take the train to Versailles
- Walk from train station to bike depot
- Ride bikes to Versailles Market and get food for picnic
- Ride to Marie Antoinette’s house, take a tour of said house and gardens
- Get back on bike, ride around giant lake then eat picnic
- Ride bikes back to depot and walk to Palace
- Tour palace and gardens on your own
- Walk back to train station and take train back to Versailles
Obviously there is more detail than that but I wanted to give you a basic run-down of the tour since for whatever reason these tour websites just don’t give you a good itinerary. Travel Planner problems 🙂 Its also important to note that you will be taking public transportation to and from Versailles. I thought it was a private bus like our trip to Champagne. Sadly mistaken friends. Not that I mind, we were taking public transportation this whole trip, I just wasn’t prepared for it.
For Versailles, be aware that even on a bike tour there is a good amount of walking. I would say minimum 3 miles of walking not including time spent on the bike. For me this wasn’t an issue but there was a gentleman in our tour with bad knees that was struggling. Make sure you wear comfy shoes and are prepared for time on your feet. If you don’t do the bike tour just double that 3 miles because OMG the property is HUGE. Oh and I am well aware that I wore a skirt to ride a bike, that was intentional. When going to Versailles you dress the part. Granted I was the ONLY woman in my group not wearing workout pants but hey I was happy and felt fancy. PS- Tieks do make great casual bike riding shoes in case you wanted to know 😉
Now lets get into the meat and talk about our time in Versailles. This little town is straight out of a fairy-tale complete with markets, old churches and of course a grand Palace. I was impressed with how clean and quiet this neighborhood was but it should be no surprise. Our guide told us its the most expensive place to live in France with minimum rent at 5,000 Euros. YIKES!!! It costs a lot to live in an idyllic place I guess.
On our bike ride to the Palace gardens and small-house we stopped at the oldest market in France to get our picnic lunch. You guys, this was the highlight of the tour and I’m not even joking. We went to a meat market and got the BEST prosciutto de parma I have ever had. In the meat market there was also a produce section and we grabbed some grapes which were so delicious is should be criminal. We went to a cheese market and based on a recommendation got truffle brie that was to die for. The we went to a wine shop to get a delicious french chardonnay. Finally we went to a bakery and got a loaf of french bread and of course some pastries. I should point out we did all of this in French!!! Yes those french lessons paid off my friends. I was so beyond ecstatic to be buying food in french that was fresh and delicious. So stupid happy! Ok back to the tour.
We made our way to the small house and took a tour (really it was a walk-through) which took all of 5 minutes its so small (and a little boring). You do see Marie Antoinette’s chambers which is nice and all but I was under-whelmed. After we left the house we took a tour of the english style gardens and the provincial village that was built for Marie. It was beautiful and peaceful but again under-whelming. We did not get to go into the french garden section of the small house which I was disappointed about but we still had the palace to get to.
Back on the bikes we rode right past the pink palace and even though I asked about it our tour guide didn’t say anything about it. A quick note about our tour guide…apparently it was his last day as a tour guide and you could tell. While he did have great information to share he was sporadic and wasn’t great at answering questions. There were also times when we were walking that you couldn’t hear him because he was facing forward and the wind was carrying his voice away. I really wish they would use those headsets all other tours I have been on use but alas they did not. Don’t get me wrong I liked our tour guide, but these guys make or break your tour and I think he just fell short. You’ll see more examples later.
We rode our bikes around the giant lake and set up a picnic. MMM that food we got in the market was delicious. We drank that whole bottle of wine and ate every single morsel we bought #winning! Someone (*cough JOE cough*) didn’t share their eclair with me even though someone promised me they would…sore subject 😉 It was such a nice day we really enjoyed sitting on the grass eating our food and enjoying the day. When we go back to Paris we will definitely be having a picnic on the river just like this. This moment was such a highlight and it was just eating lunch!
After lunch we took our bikes back around the lake and back to the depot. I was pretty confused at this point because there was only about an hour left in the tour but we still hadn’t seen any of the palace or large gardens yet. We walked back to the palace and got our “front of the line” ticket to get in. I use quotes because at 3pm there was no line. When we rode our bikes past that morning yes there was a long line, but in the afternoon, nothing. I don’t see the value in the front of the line pass but maybe it was just a slow day in general. We get into the palace courtyard, our guide gives us a quick 10 minute speech about the french revolution then he says goodbye and we are left to tour the palace and gardens on our own.
Ok…wait…what?! Maybe I was just under a false impression but I thought the tour included a guided tour of the Palace and gardens. I could have gotten a bike and rode around the lake and Marie’s place on my own (you can do this). After the guide left us in the courtyard I was totally confused. I thought he was going to walk with us in the rooms, tell us some history about the palace and all that then take us through the gardens. This totally didn’t happen. I will recommend Fat Tire Tours but I still didn’t love this tour. I didn’t and still don’t see the value for the price I paid. I could blame it all on the tour guide (he wasn’t great) but that still didn’t change the fact that the tour doesn’t go through the actual palace or large gardens.
With that being said, we took maybe 10 minutes to walk through the Palace. Spent a few extra minutes in the hall of mirrors then walked down to the gardens. Folks, all I saw was dirt and a few shrubs. Where the heck were the gardens that were supposed to be immaculate? This is what I thought the guide would help us with, to see beautiful spots in the gardens. Not to mention walking through the palace is totally useless (to me) if you don’t get to hear the history behind it. Otherwise its just like a home tour and that’s just boring. At the end, I left confused and disappointed. Not just because the tour didn’t live up to my admittedly high expectations but also because everyone had hyped Versailles up so much it just fell flat for me.
Which brings me to my post title. Versailles, yay or nay?! I’m still on the fence on this one. On the one hand the market experience was fantastic, riding bikes through trails was fun and we learned about french history. On the other hand it was quite a lot of money to not get the full tour experience like I had envisioned. I think if I were to do this again I would book either a different tour or company. There were tour groups inside the palace so I know it can be done I’m just confused as to why ours didn’t.
All of this to say Versailles was flat for me. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it, I don’t think I would go back. It was great to get out of the city and experience something different but I’m not sure I felt like I got a return on my investment. I think a lot has to do with the tour guide. I have a fear of missing out of things so when I couldn’t hear what he was saying it was very frustrating to me. He also had a bit of an attitude that I attribute to being his last day. If we had a different guide I think the overall experience would have been better.
While the tour left a lot to be desired Joe and I had a great time together and enjoyed the beautiful day. If one day you find yourself in Paris and have a moment to spare on Versailles, do it. If only for the sake of being able to say you’ve been. I don’t regret going I just wish the day had gone differently. If you do go to Versailles, you MUST check out the market and get lunch there. That is one experience you will not regret. You don’t need to speak French but it does help tremendously. To quote Doctor Who “This is Versailles, and we are French!”
CHIME IN!!! Have you been to Versailles? Do you like architecture? Have you ever bought food in another language before?