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Palace of Versailles
Today we are heading back to Paris for my favorite part of our trip – our day trip to the Palace of Versailles. The Palace of Versailles is a former royal chateau located about an hour from Paris. The chateau began as a hunting lodge in 1624 and was expanded upon as royal families used it for different purposes throughout the decades. It is also later became an important part of the French Revolution.
We booked a tour in advance with Bike About. They do small group bike tours in Paris, Versailles, and the Champagne region. I highly suggest considering a bike tour, either guided or independently, if you visit the Palace of Versailles. The grounds are HUGE, and we were able to see so much more (including many of my favorite parts!) on bike than we ever would have walking. Many people only visit the main chateau, and I think I would have been very disappointed with our experience had that been our trip.
The tour begins at 9am from the meeting point in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral. We stopped at Aux Desires de Manon on the way for espresso and croissants. (Don’t forget – go for the croissant au beurre! ?) From the Cathedral, our group walked to the RER-C line to catch the travel to Versailles. One very convenient aspect of this tour was the fact that we didn’t have to worry about picking up bikes until we reached Versailles!
Make sure to check the weather before you leave for the day. We experienced a light rain for much of the day but were prepared with rain jackets and ponchos! On the positive side, a rainy Saturday meant significantly less crowds and lines at the palace.
Once everyone was settled on their own bike in Versailles, our group set off down the streets towards a nearby local market. The market consisted of four buildings each filled with stalls that sold everything – fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, jams, wine, crepes, and more. Many stalls will have a person or two working that speaks English. This is the perfect place to grab supplies for a picnic lunch later on the palace grounds. There’s also a small bakery located down the street that also sells fresh baguettes.
We spent an hour at the market and then biked through the grounds to the Petite Trianon, Marie-Antoinette’s estate, and the Grand Trianon. Our guide did a fantastic job of sharing the stories and history of the buildings and grounds, as well as France. The Hameau de la Reine, or the Queen’s Hamlet, is a small retreat built for Marie Antoinette in 1783. This was Marie Antoinette’s escape from the pressures and scrutiny of royal life. It was intended to be a simple, peasant village stocked with animals and “residents”, but the unintentional mockery of French peasants brought Marie Antoinette much criticism and resentment.
We could have easily spent many hours wandering the paths along the grounds. Our guide kept us moving along at a fairly quick pace thought (there’s a lot to see!). We biked along the Grand Canal, which is 8 feet deep and was hand dug. If you’ve brought along a picnic lunch, the grassy areas around the canal are the perfect place to stop and eat.
Our final stop of the day after lunch was the main chateau. This is the most well-known part of the palace and the most crowded. Our guide left us at this point with general information on the chateau and directions back to the train station when we were finished. The interior architecture is incredible, but there were just so many people. A free audio tour is included with your admission, so be sure to grab one on your way in.
After quickly walking through the main chateau, we wandered the gardens located behind the building. The gardens are huge with many fountains and a few hidden cafes.
We ended our tour and made our way back to the train station. We arrived back at our Airbnb around 7:30pm, showered, and grabbed dinner. After 5 days in Paris, this was easily my favorite part of our trip. The grounds and chateau are beautiful, the history we learned from our guide was invaluable, and it was fun to spend a day doing something active! Have you done a bike tour in any cities you have visited? Share your tips in the comments below!