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Finding Romance in Versailles

The True Romantic Paris: Versailles

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Versailles chateau

Versailles chateau

Elizabeth Cron
Paris, the city of light, is often referred to as one of “the most romantic cities in the world” -- a point not lost on my boyfriend and travel companion during our recent trip to France.

“It’s so romantic here” – he sarcastically crooned as we waited in line for over an hour for the privilege to buy tickets to the Eiffel Tower.

“It’s so romantic here” – as the waiter sat us at the only table not in the shade on an unbearably hot day in the Tuileries Gardens.

“It’s so romantic here” – as he carries both of our suitcases up and down uncountable flights of stairs as we try to decipher the maze of underground subway tunnels.

While we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Paris, mostly spent trekking from site to site in an effort not to miss anything, it was clear the famed “romance” of the city was getting lost on him. Determined to experience some French romance, I had pinned all my hopes on our final destination of the trip: Versailles.

Versailles: More than a Day-Trip

With its magnificent palace, Le Chateau, expansive gardens and historical peek at the glamour of French court life, Versailles, usually presented as a day trip from Paris, is best experienced over two full days.

Our first day in Versailles was spent at the enormous palace Chateau, the royal gardens and the “Domaine De Marie-Antoinette” a set of smaller palaces favored by notorious queen.

The Chateau, designated the center of France’s royal court life by Louis XIV or as he liked to call himself “The Sun King,” is a magnificent spectacle of gold trim, ornate furniture, perfectly painted ceilings and grandiose windows overlooking the expansive and neatly trimmed gardens.

Walking through my favorite room, The Hall of Mirrors, I could envision troves of elegantly dressed men and women waltzing to a string quartet while stealing vain peeks at themselves in the 17 arched mirrors lining the walls.

The Queens Chambers also gives a unique look at the daily – and very public — rituals queens like Marie Antoinette endured. In her bedchamber we learned that every morning the queen had to wake, bathe and dress in front of more than 20 noble women, who all fought to hand the Queen her under garments. In addition, every royal baby was delivered in public to prove his/her blue-bloodedness.

Upon exiting the palace, we came to what has to be the most stunning view in Versailles, the Royal Drive encompassing the gardens. The gardens, expertly planned with perfect symmetry, were the Sun King’s attempt to prove that he was in command of everything, even nature.

Versailles' Domaine de Marie Antionette

The last stop on our tour of the royal grounds was the Domaine De Marie Antoinette. This ill-fated queen, famous in history for her lavish lifestyle and grim beheading, was in actuality a sweet girl from Austria who wanted nothing more than to escape the public life of the Chateau.

The most enchanting part of the Domaine De Marie Antoinette was the Temple of Love, which consists of tall dome containing a sculpture of Cupid making a bow out of the club of Hercules. To get to the temple, you have to walk down a lovely path lined with wild flowers and cross a small bridge.

As my boyfriend and I walked hand in hand over the bridge, I wondered, did Marie Antoinette do the same thing with her lover Swedish Count Axel von Fersen?

Versailles Beyond the Palace

The real pleasure of visiting Versailles, often overlooked in guidebooks and tours, began our second day when we spent a lazy four hours exploring the expansive park extending off the palace gardens. We grabbed some baguettes, quiches and delicious eclairs from a local patisserie and rented bikes to take us on our journey.

Cruising down tree lined paths, we came across sheep grazing in a meadow, families enjoying a picnic in the shade and ducks pecking at scraps of bread thrown to them by excited children. Everywhere we looked, I got the sense that the people of Versailles truly valued companionship.

After our picnic, we spent the afternoon reading beneath a large tree enjoying the sound of wind rustling the leaves and the sun on our skin. With no more sites to see or trains to catch, we reveled in the relaxed atmosphere surrounding us.

Romantic Dinner in Versailles

We wandering around town without rhyme or reason. We stumbled upon the Rue Ducis/Pasage de Geole square in the heart of Versailles, which was filled with people enjoying an espresso, beer or wine. With approximately six restaurants to choose from in this square, we blindly sat down at Café Ducis, a charming outdoor cafe.

The menus that were set in front of us threatened to derail the entire day – totally in French, which we both don’t speak, with few familiar words. I considered suggesting we move along to the pizza joint up the square, thinking about the other time I blindly ordered in Italy and ended up with an entire raw squid.

However, my boyfriend, the adventurous one, had no apprehension, already pointing out an appetizer and entrée from the meal choices to our waiter. I reluctantly embraced the unknown and chose blindly from the menu hoping for some type of steak while avoiding the sardines.

My apprehension proved to be sorely misplaced once our meal began. After delicious appetizers of cheese raviolis and white asparagus, our waiter came out with two dishes and hovered in our area, unsure to which of the tables nearby they belonged. He turned to us and asked something in French, to which we gave our usual shrug. He then set down a plate of pork chops in front of my boyfriend, and a perfectly petite filet mignon in front of me. The meal ended up being the most enjoyable we’d had during our entire 10 days in France.

As the sun was setting and we finished the last of our deserts, my boyfriend looked at me and said, “It’s so romantic here,” this time without the sarcasm.

Elizabeth Cron works in consumer public relations in Chicago, IL, where she specializes in emerging and social media as well as consumer public relations programs. She is an avid traveler and has previously lived in Leipzig, Germany.

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