A Journey to the Age of Magnificence

Travel tips from this month's Journeys column

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"From morning until three o'clock in the afternoon we went hunting. On our return from the chase we changed our dresses and went upstairs to the gaming, where we stayed until seven o'clock in the evening," reports Louis XIV's bemused sister-in-law, Elisabeth Charlotte of Bavaria, known to all as Madame. She hurried to a play, ate a hearty supper at 10:30 and danced at a ball until 3 in the morning, when she and the exhausted guests finally satisfied their social obligations and retired for the night. That was a typical day at Versailles in December of 1676. Without the king around to schedule every moment of your day, your trip to Versailles should be far more relaxing. But don't try to cram a visit to the château, its gardens and the Trianons into one day or you'll be left exhausted, just like Madame.

Our author, Richard Covington, calls the village of Versailles his home, so we asked him to put together some travel tips and information, which we've printed below.

Summertime and the Joint Is Jumping

The best time of year to visit the gardens is July through early September, largely to take advantage of the nighttime fireworks spectacles and the daytime fountain show promenades (which run from early April through early October).

Fall and Winter Have Their Own Rewards

If you're more interested in musical performances, the time to come is October through June, when several series of baroque concerts, operas and ballets are held in the exquisitely well-preserved Opera House and in the Royal Chapel.

Click on the Versailles Website Here you'll find a great deal of easy-to-follow background information and a complete listing of lectures, tours, fountain shows and fireworks scheduled for the current month. For armchair travelers, the site includes a virtual tour with moving 360-degree panoramic images. It also provides contact information for the château, including the main telephone number (011-33-1-3083-7800) and fax (011-33-1-3083-7777).

Admission

The park and the gardens are free. Fees for the château, the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon vary. Check out the "passport" deal offered on the Versailles Website, which enables access to all locales for just one price. After 3:30 P.M. each day, admission fees for the château, the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon are all reduced, but be forewarned that the last entry is at 6 P.M. sharp.

The Tracks Best Traveled

The quickest way to get to Versailles from Paris is to take a suburban (banlieue) train from either the Montparnasse or the Saint-Lazare train station. Express trains (from Montparnasse only) take less than 15 minutes; local trains take half an hour. From the Versailles station, it's just a ten minute walk to the park and the château. Alternately, you can take the RER C (rapid transit train) that leaves from numerous points on the Left Bank; from the Invalides stop, the journey is about 30 minutes.

Bypass the Taxi Stand

It's a waste of money to take a taxi from Paris because the train station is conveniently located near the château. Be mindful, too, that in Paris traffic the taxi just may take longer than the train.

Wear Sensible Shoes

Apparently, a few visitors have arrived barefoot at Versailles. Officials feel it necessary to warn Shoeless Joes that they are not welcome. They do advise that visitors wear flats to help preserve the parquet flooring.

If You've a King's Ransom to Spend

The most luxurious hotel in town is the Trianon Palace, just across the Boulevard de la Reine from the Bassin de Neptune, site of the fireworks spectacles. Chef Gérard Vié runs the Michelin two-star restaurant, the Trois Marches, inside the hotel. The address is: 1, blvd. de la Reine; 78000 Versailles. tel. 011-33-1-3084-3800; fax: 011-33-1-3949-0077; e-mail: fabienne.coltet@westin.com

Less Pomp, More Circumstance

Tucked away on a quiet side street a bit off the tourist track, La Résidence du Berry is a three-star hotel across from the Potager du Roi, the château's fruit and vegetable garden, which becomes a bustling market on weekends. The address is: 14, rue d'Anjou; 78000 Versailles. tel. 011-33-1-3949-0707; fax: 011-33-1-3950-5940; e-mail: resa@hotel-berry.com

Eating In

Inside the château grounds, La Flottille restaurant (local tel. 01-3951-4158) overlooks the Grand Canal and offers the choice of having lunch either outside on the shady terrace or inside in belle epoque splendor. (Dinner is not available, as the restaurant closes at 7 P.M.) Another possibility is picnicking, which is allowed at the Pièce d'Eau des Suisses, near the Orangery.

For Sumptuous Treats

Le Potager du Roi restaurant, a five minute walk south from the château's main entrance, specializes in traditional dishes, such as foie gras, jarret de veau and rabbit, but has been known to toss a few experimental curveballs. The eggplant charlotte with chunks of lamb and the veal tips with panfried artichokes are two notable successes. The address is: 1, rue Maréchal-Joffre; local tel. 01-3950-3534.

Mais Oui, One More Restaurant

Slightly more basic but considerably more festive is the Brasserie du Théâtre, which is about a five minute walk north from Versailles' main entrance and excels in standard bistro fare, including gigot d'agneau, choucroute and lentils and pork. The address is: 15, rue Réservoirs; local tel. 01-3950-0321.

And Finally

A visa is not required for Americans visiting France. The current exchange rate is around 7.4 francs to the dollar.

For more general information

The Versailles tourism office is located at 2 bis, avénue de Paris; 78000 Versailles; tel. 011-33-1-3924-8888; fax: 011-33-1-3924-8889; e-mail: versaillestourism@wanadoo.fr

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