If you feel like you’ve been and done Paris (although we say never!), turn to Versailles for a trip with a difference. Arguably even more beautiful than the city de l’amour, and only 40 minutes away, here’s why to make it your next mini break…
A place of heritage, creativity and jaw-dropping beauty (the architecture, the culture, the gardens… we could go on), Versailles has all the magic of Paris but with an under-the-radar vibe. Small enough to explore in a few days, it makes an ideal getaway for a long weekend.
What to do…
In the city itself, there are walking tours; traditional French food markets; the atmospheric Saint Louis Cathedral; the King’s Kitchen Garden, which – even on a warm, sunny day – has relatively few visitors; the Salle du Jeu de Paume; parks and quaint shops you’ll discover just wandering around.
And the Palace?
Dream-like in its splendor, the Château de Versailles should be top of your must-visit list. Make the most of myriad photo opportunities – the Hall of Mirrors may not have been built to be Instagrammed, but it certainly lends itself to a social media snap – and immerse yourself in the lives of the French aristocracy. There are too many rooms to take in on one visit, and each seems more ornate than the last, so book a guided tour with one of the many expert guides – it’s well worth investing the time.
Also, be sure to check out the events schedule at the Palace – opera, theatre, dance shows, exhibitions and fireworks are all regular occurrences. If you can, book tickets to the opera in the chapel (the same chapel that housed the wedding of Marie Antoinette, where else?).
What about the gardens?
More sprawling than you could imagine, and with more corners than you could possibly hope to explore, the sheer scale of the carefully manicured gardens is enough to amaze. Throw in privacy (yes, even in this rather touristy hotspot, you can sit for an hour undisturbed), incredible fountains and sculptures, and you’ve got pure holiday heaven.
Head to the gardens first, spend a few hours wandering aimlessly and then venture inside the Palace at around 4pm to avoid the crowds (when you get to the Hall of Mirrors, you’ll find most people have gone).
Where to eat…
There are plenty of al-fresco cafés serving traditional cuisine and red wine by the carafe, but if you’re there for a special occasion, Alain Ducasse’s Ore at the Palace is a must-visit. Expect the attention to detail typical of Ducasse, from crockery inspired by the royal’s own collection to the mouth-watering menu. Favourites include the signature salad (really, trust us) and the coquillette pasta, washed down with Champagne, of course. Be sure to book in advance.
And for dessert?
Take a late-night walk to find Le Carré aux Crêpes, a small, unassuming creperie that won’t break the bank but will satisfy even the sweetest tooth – expect to queue if it’s a busy day, but the warm welcome and stacks of pancakes are worth it.
Where to stay…
For all-out decadence (what else is Versailles for?), book into the Trianon Palace Hotel, which boasts views of the Palace and grounds, two incredible restaurants by Gordon Ramsay and luxurious rooms. Plus, it’s a five-minute walk from the Palace gardens, so you can basically roll out of bed and into the Château. Treat yourself with a full-body massage and rejuvenating facial at the renowned Guerlain Spa – we told you, decadence.
The beauty of Versailles is that it’s not as bustling as Paris, so it’s ideal for those seeking relaxation. As you might expect, it’s quite romantic, so take your partner for a special occasion, or escape London with a friend and recharge in serious style.
When to visit…
Catch the sun towards the tail end of summer, or enjoy an autumnal getaway from September to November to avoid the crowds.
And how to get there?
Book on the Eurostar to Paris, then hop in a taxi (it’s around a 40-minute ride) or on a train to Versailles. You could also do both cities in one trip to really make the most of your holiday.
Eurostar operates up to 21 daily services from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare Du Nord, with one-way fares starting from £29 (based on a return journey). The fastest London to Paris journey time is two hours, 15 minutes.
For tickets, visit EuroStar.com or call 03432 186 186