Risky Regencies

Domaine de Marie Antoinette

So, I did promise lots of posts using the research I accumulated on my European adventure! (like that annoying relative with all their vacation slides, the ones that go on for hours and hours…).

Today I’ll talk a bit about my visit to Versailles, especially the Petit Trianon and the adorable Hameau (called on the rather confusing directional signs “Domaine de Marie Antoinette.” Hint: when you come to the fork in the pathways and it points left, go right). The Trianon just completed a year-long, $7 million renovation, meant to look as if the Queen and her friends had just stepped away for a moment. I was lucky to have a beautiful warm, sunny day, the perfect time to wander the gardens and daydream about going back in time about 230 years.

The Petit Trianon was built between 1762 and 1768, originally meant for Madame de Pompador, though she died before she could make use of it. It was then used a bit by Madame du Barry, but did not come into its own until 1774, when it was gifted to Marie Antoinette as her little retreat from the suffocating etiquette of Versailles (if you look at pics contrasting her bedrooms in the chateau and in the Trianon, you can see why she might need a break! Sorry about the fuzzy quality of the Trianon pic–I was in a hurry)

According to the booklets I bought, it’s a fine example of the transition from Roccoco style to the refined Neoclassical. The exterior is simple and elegant, essentially a big cube with four facades that reflect the part of the estate they face. The gardens around the house reflect the Queen’s interest in the more natural, “English” style of garden espoused by Rousseau, and features meandering paths, streams, and a little Temple of Love as well as a grotto. Inside, the rooms are airy and intimate, the perfect place to hang out with friends, play some music, have a little play in the cute little theater–get into some amorous trouble!

A short walk from the house (follow the little stream past the Temple and turn left, through the trees) there is the Hameau, the rustic retreat meant to look like a miniature (and cleaned-up) Norman peasant village. It comes complete with a dairy, mill, and farmhouse, and this is where the Queen and her friends would wear their simple little white muslin dresses and straw hats and chase sheep around. (On display was one of her milk buckets, porcelain from Sevres, fashioned to look like wood and decorated with the entwined MA monogram). The little gardens were in full autumn bloom, with pumpkins and apples, though the buildings can only be peeked at through doors and windows.

It was here, while sheltering from the rain in the grotto, that the Queen learned an angry mob was on its way from Paris. She returned at once to the chateau, and never saw the Petit Trianon again.

I had the most wonderful afternoon wandering around here, picturing what it all must have been like! I wished I had a muslin gown and little lamb to make it all complete. (Though I’m sure the other tourists around thought I was crazy enough already, the way I ran about exclaiming over everything…)

What would be your favorite part of Versailles? Or of any historical site? Do you go a little crazy there, like I do??

And next week we will move across the channel (and back even further in time) to the Tower of London…

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14 years ago

The gardens. My grandparents live in Versailles, and since my adolescence, I have a sweet spot for the gardens on a sunny automn morning.

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

I am so jealous! I would love to have the chance to visit the gardens every autumn (several times!). There are so many nooks and pathways to explore. I’m sure it would be the work of many years!

Gwynlyn MacKenzie
14 years ago

Well, it looks like I’m going to make it unanimous; the gardens. I like the homes, the furnishing, the bits of daily life, but the gardens places of contemplation, where one goes when the spirit needs soothing. A favorite garden can tell you so much about a person while allowing you to experience the peace there.

14 years ago

Ooh, just loved those pictures! 🙂 It was great seeing and reading about it, so yes, keep showing those slides and talking for hours and hours. 😉

The only historical place I went to, and went a bit fangirly is 112 Mercer Street, Princeton NJ. Yes, I will admit that I teared up when I was passing by Albert Einstein’s old home. And good thing it’s a private home, because if it was open to the public and I could walk in, I think I would just be way too intimidated. . . I mean, he lived and breathed there!!! 🙂

Lois – yes, I know, I’m nuts. 🙂

Cara King
14 years ago

Great post, Amanda!

I have a soft spot for the Petit Trianon…for a weird reason. When I was still far too young and naive, I did one of those do-it-yourself whirlwind trips of all Europe in three weeks with my family… Well, we went to Versailles (took the train from Paris and walked, fighting over the very unclear directions — maybe it’s a French thing?), and got totally rained on.

With the terrible directions, we were very confused and wet, and — I’m blushing to admit this — we thought the Petit Trianon was the Palace of Versailles. We were very confused by the fact that it wasn’t going to open to visitors until 1 pm!

So we just stayed there, trying to shelter under the open walkway from the sometimes torrential rain, for about two hours…

But it did leave me with some gorgeous pictures!

And by the time we got to the Palace of Versailles (having figured out our error), it was crowded and we were rushed…

And Lois — I know how you feel about Einstein’s house! (Though we had to keep driving up and down saying “that one? or that one?”) 😉


Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

“yes, I know, I’m nuts.”

No, Lois–you’re among friends here. 🙂

Cara, what an LOL story!! I totally sympathize on the poor directions–I was very confused many times on this trip. I got so lost in the Louvre that I was convinced I would never find my way out, and would just have to live there.

“favorite garden can tell you so much about a person while allowing you to experience the peace there.”

This is so true. I’m also a big fan of gardens, and seeing the formal, constrained gardens of Versailles contrasted with the meandering Trianon said a lot. I also remembered visiting Chiswick on the Regency tour a few years ago–it also had beautiful gardens, a delight to wander around in. The Trianon made me think of that–the same twisting pathways and unexpected vistas, with little temples and grottos.

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

Hooray for Ammanda’s researchy posts. I’ll take that gold bedroom, please, or perhaps the brilliantly pink one. I truly felt like a gawker as we walked through those bedrooms at the palace, each more ostentatious than the former.

On display was one of her milk buckets, porcelain from Sevres, fashioned to look like wood…

I had a real laugh over this one. We always want what we don’t have. The upper crust wants to rusticate, while the lower classes want to climb up the social ladder.

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

Lois and Cara, I oohed and aahed and surreptitiously photographed Einstein’s house; it’s a private property with people living in there. Wonder what that feels like.

Poor directions? Heh. Once we went around a roundabout thrice because we couldn’t figure out the map and where the arrows were pointing, too. The third time around, we were hysterical with laughter and crawled through there getting plenty of impatient honks.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

What a special trip, Amanda! and what a beautiful place.

You might remember how awed I was at being at Stratfield Saye, Wellington’s country house. I could just feel Wellington’s presence there. I instantly became a Wellington groupie–much like your descriptions of visiting Einstein’s house, Lois and Keira!

Louisa Cornell
14 years ago

Oh roundabouts, Keira!! The only option is to laugh or cry because NOBODY can figure them out! I have laughed through many a carousel imitation at roundabouts in London!

It’s the gardens for me too, although I have to admit that the Hall of Mirrors is mouth hanging open opulence!

Great photos, Amanda and a great post. Thanks for sharing your trip with us.

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

I can’t even imagine trying to drive in one of those roundabouts!! I would never get out of them, they seemed absolutely terrifying. 🙂

And the Hall of Mirrors was certainly VERY impressive (minus that Koons sculpture exhibit going on now, which I did my very best to ignore, LOL). It wasn’t yet terribly crowded when I went there, and I imagined sweeping along in a panniered gown, wafting my fan around and gossiping with the other courtiers. 🙂

Plus they have the BEST gift shop. Very important.

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

Diane, knowing what you feel about Wellington, I’m trying to imagine what you must’ve felt like to have been there. Moist eyes, too, I think, m’dear?

We have to travel again some day soon. SF was so much fun with you.

I agree about the gift shop. Those professional postcards are the only way to capture the true eminence of Versailles’ ostentation. My photographs of the interior are uniformly poor, so I’m very glad for my postcards.

I have one of Josephine at Napoleon’s coronation. The details. Makes you gasp in awe.

Louisa, the Hall of Mirrors is truly awe-inspiring. The movie MA truly couldn’t do it justice.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Keira, wouldn’t it be great to travel to England? We should do a “Risky Regencies” tour!!!!

At Stratfield Saye there was an exhibit of Wellington’s over-the-top funeral carriage, with some photographs. But what did make me tear up was a recording of the recitation of all Wellington’s “titles” and honors. I just felt I was in the presence of a great man.

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