May 18, 2016

The queen of contradictions

Even though Versailles is only 20km away it is hard to get Parisians out of their city. However, Queen Marie Antoinette must be one of the most intriguing characters in French history and therefore well worth the trip.

Royals being royals, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette decided that Versailles and the massive gardens were not enough, so they built their respective miniature palaces about a mile away from the main palace, but still on the grounds of Versailles. Apparently, they would escape the pressures of court life down the road to their Grand Trianon (for King Louis) and Petit Trianon (Marie Antoinette).

Our expert guide led us around the Queen's residence, a small palace full of charm, inseparably linked to the queen herself. Although built between 1762 and 1789, it was originally destined for Madame de Pompadour who died before it was completed, it was Marie Antoinette, scoffing at stuffy court traditions, who imposed her personal taste on it. From 1774, when her husband Louis XVI gave it to her, she found a haven of peace that allowed her to escape from Paris, a mere stone's throw away.

The moment we entered the Trianon palace, we absorbed the atmosphere pervaded with the shadow and personality of the young Austrian queen, as each of the tastefully decorated rooms reflects her way of living and freedom of thought. It must have been very pleasant and relaxing to live here, with her pretty bedroom looking out over the English-style gardens, picturesque and full of flowers, notwithstanding the fact that not once did her husband stay overnight there.

We continued exploring the grounds by trekking along a labyrinth of little paths criss-crossing the vast estate designed by the celebrated gardener of Louis XIV, Andre Le Notre, and popularly known as "the domain of Marie Antoinette". Everything in the gardens was just beginning to bloom. We were very lucky with the weather and looking around you could imagine her majesty sitting on a bench under one of the century-old trees looking onto the pond reflecting the exquisite Belvedere pavilion.

The delightful landscaped gardens include a grotto, a vineyard, a theatre, a hamlet and a farm which to this day is inhabited by donkeys, goats, pigs, lambs, rabbits and ducks the idea being that Marie Antoinette wanted the village to provide country pastimes for herself and her children as well as allowing the estate to be self-sufficient.

We enjoyed a glorious day discovering a woman's look, not at the pomp of the official apartments, but at the intimate spaces of the Petit Trianon and the hamlet created by the Queen Marie Antoinette as places of escape for herself, her friends and their children. It told the story of this contradictory Queen, who came to France to learn about its fashions and styles and ended up creating them, who knew extremes of privilege and excess as well as grief and loss, whose headstrong character was truer to the monarchy than the King himself yet who lost her head on the guillotine...

...and she's wasn't even French!

The backside of the Petit Trianon looking onto the garden

The queen was 14 years old when she first arrived to France

The inside of le Petit Trianon

The music room where the Queen received visitors

Let's take a look behind the doors

The queen's bedroom

The view from Marie Antoinette's bedroom

Le Pavillon français

One of the accesses to the Trianon Gardens

Impressive flora

Le rocher et le Belvedere

An intriguing statue

The queen had her own personal vineyard. It still produces wine to this day.

The very picturesque hamlet. Where is Jane Eyre?

Time to go back to Paris!

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