When I was about 10 years old, I was enchanted after reading a fictional diary of young Marie Antoinette. Through the same series of books I became enthralled by the stories of Russia’s Anastasia and Isabella of Spain. And so began my infatuation with castles. One of the places I have dreamed about visiting since befriending a young Marie Antoinette in my imagination, is the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. On our recent return to Paris, we caught a train out to Versailles to visit the iconic palace (or chateau, if you prefer) built by Louis XIV.
The entrance is about as grand as you can imagine. From the train station we walked a few minutes before turning left and finding ourselves looking down an avenue towards the glittering and gilded gates of the palace. It was raining (again – thanks Paris!) but remarkably, all that gold still shone brightly. Versailles is an extremely popular destination and I would highly recommend purchasing tickets in advance as we did. Top tip for young travellers, if you are a resident of the EU and under 26, you can get in for free! Simply bring along your passport like Richard did and save some moo-lah. (Given recent political events, this appears to be a limited time offer for those of us living in the UK.)
The amount of gold and ornate decoration in the palace rivals the Palacio Real de Madrid. In most of the rooms, not a single inch of space was left undecorated. During the reign of Louis XIV, the hunting lodge on the site was expanded into a royal palace from where the King ruled France. As a statement of the political and economic wealth of the nation, it does an incredible job; it is impossible not to be impressed. The subsequent French revolution in 1789 means that the palace is also a symbol of the French absolute monarchy – decidedly to remain a figure of the past.
The King had a deep fondness for classical gods that is reflected in the sculptures and frescoes throughout the palace. The King is depicted with the gods to show his divine authority. It all sounds a bit too OTT for me, but then again, I am a mere commoner!
Evidently I am not the only one who was excited to see the Hall of Mirrors! Despite all the people, I was in awe of finally seeing this iconic location. It was opulent, grand and gilded with a magical atmosphere about it. The mirrors themselves were old to our eyes, but for a time when it was difficult and expensive to obtain mirrors, a wall of them was certainly an extravagance only a King could afford.
Not content with the ostentatious palace, Louis XIV also ensured the estate included expansive gardens that are beautifully kept. Unfortunately we did not get to explore the garden area but did get a glimpse of it, looking pristine even in the rain.
Being able to visit the Palace of Versailles was a dream come true for my inner child. I’m incredibly grateful to have ticked this off my list!