Is there a certain place that you return to over and over again and each time you discover something even more magical than the time before? This past summer, I found myself back in my happy place, France, for two glorious weeks, something I wrote about in 'The Art of Traveling Solo' in the latest issue of ROSE & IVY. It was a hot few weeks, the type of oppressive heat when even a chilled bottle of Evian spray will only provide a few moments of respite from the sun. France is not known for their air conditioning, so in order to cool down, I ordered une carafe d'eau, alongside a bucket of ice at each café I visited. The ice melted in a meager 30 minutes.
While in Paris, I always make it a priority to go to Versailles - not the palace, but the gardens. It was a sweltering day, when I boarded the train to the palatial grounds. While the Chateau always draws hundreds upon hundreds of people with lines that can wrap a few people deep, the gardens are free and are line free.
I dedicated an entire day to spend wandering the 230 acres of sprawling gardens by myself - just me, my camera and a two liter bottle of water. I was pretty familiar with the grounds, but this time I wanted to spend time in areas that I usually leave for last and I end up feeling rushed. The gardens were green and impeccably manicured. The peonies had faded and the garden roses were not far behind, however, I find great beauty in wilting flowers. I strolled to the Trianon Palaces lost in the beauty of the swaying willows and marveled at the intricate design inside of Marie-Antoinette's Estate. I saw raggedy sheep grazing in the meadow and the best part about all of this? I was essentially by myself.
The Gardens now allow you to rent golf carts to get around, since walking the grounds can be exhausting, not to mention daunting, but very worthwhile, especially if you are photographing it. I am not sure if it was the heat, but there were moments that it was just me walking among beauty and history. At one. point, I thought I had veered off course; I followed a path that led to a grassy pathway that looked to stretch for miles, which was flanked by rows of manicured cypress trees. I was tired, at this point I had logged over 8 miles that day. I experienced that type of utter solitude that gives you the goosebumps. It was just me and the birds, the type that jump from place to place versus fly. I laid down on the grass dotted with yellow wildflowers and just absorbed how much gratitude I felt for that present moment. Eventually I found myself at the back of the Trianon, with perfectly squared linden trees and idle reflecting pools.
Here is how I see Versailles and more importantly how I see beauty - spacious, expansive with a tinge of romance. See below on recommendations if you are visiting the Gardens.
R&I Tips for Visiting the Versailles Gardens
Be sure to buy your return ticket when you purchase your ticket to Versailles. The lines to the kiosks can be very long and are usually with other visitors who do not know how to operate them! Tickets are about 7 euros round trip.
Arrive the earliest that you can. The gardens open at 8am and close at 8:30. If you are visiting in the summer months, when the sun sets around 10pm you will get a lot of time to relax and enjoy.
Resist renting a golf cart! There are so many discoveries to be made, like garden rooms, water fountains and statues that it would terrible to miss because you are flying past them.
There are various refreshment stands towards the chateau; I recommend waiting until you get deep into the grounds and enjoy a sandwich or a delicious quiche at Angelina, the famed café in Paris, located by the Petit Trianon.
Photography by Alison