It might surprise you to know that the Palace of Versailles wasn’t actually the highlight of our recent visit. Mr 10 and I really enjoyed the Chateau, however, Mr Husband got the condensed experience as he had to keep up with Miss 7 who was on a mission to win a prize for sprinting her way through the Palace. Overall, we preferred the activities that allowed the children more freedom to run around and explore in their own unique way.
Marie-Antoinette’s Hamlet (open from midday)
First up, Marie-Antoinette’s Hamlet. I had read about the little village on the lovely Ashley’s website (amazingly talented photographer) and knew we had to make it there.
Marie-Antoinette, the last Queen of France, had a hamlet built – a sort of grown-up playground where she could pretend-play at being a peasant. The hamlet has a fairytale air about it – thatched cottages, a pond, a watermill, pretty bridges, gardens. The kids loved running in the grounds, peering into the cottages, watching the fish and the ducks in the pond. We, the adults, found the story behind the hamlet fascinating although you do begin to understand why there was a Revolution.
A little more about Marie-Antoinette
Marie-Antoinette was born in Vienna, Austria, the 15th of 16 children. Her marriage was arranged to the future King of France to strengthen Franco-Austrian relations. She wed at 15 and became Queen at the tender age 19 in 1774. She was initially revered by the French but this soon changed. Her husband gifted her the Petit Trianon and she later had the hamlet built. This extravagant spending and over-indulgence earned her the nickname of Madame Deficit outside the Palace walls. It eventually led to her demise in 1793 following the French Revolution when she was executed by guillotine – 9 months after her husband’s execution.
Tip Read: The French Revolution for Kids
Unfortunately her house is currently being restored (May 2017) and was draped under a giant ‘Dior’ canvas (ironic non?). Apparently she spent lots of time there as she was lonely and bored. Her husband, Louis XVI, used to come and visit her at the Petit Trianon but never slept there.
Next up, the small farm within the hamlet. This was the children’s favourite place of all – a real highlight of our visit. They loved watching the goats, sheep, pot-bellied pigs, ducks, the sheep-dog. Back in Marie-Antoinette’s day, it was an actual working farm which had 8 cows, 1 bull, 10 goats and pigeons and the farmers were expected to provide her with fresh milk and eggs.
We spotted some people feeding bread to the ducks and the fish in the nearby pond so make sure you pack your leftover baguette.
Musical Gardens and Fountain Shows
Another highlight of our visit were the musical gardens and fountain shows as we happened to be visiting on one of the days they were on. It was a lovely experience – classical music playing through-out and water fountain shows every 10-15 minutes minutes. Check their site for details of when the shows take place as it’s only at certain times of year and on certain days.
The mini-train was high on the list of our kids’ favourite things too. Despite them being great walkers, we decided to catch it after we’d finished visiting the Palace. It was a real blessing as we were all feeling a little weary after a morning of queueing and elbow-dodging in the Chateau. It gave us a chance to rest, take in the views, get an idea of the scale of the grounds and of course, it was a fun mode of transport.
Tip: Kids under 11 travel free on the train and our tickets cost €7.50 per person – money very well spent. It stops at 3 different places and you can hop-on and hop-off as often as you like.
It’s funny how sometimes it isn’t actually the main attraction that’s the highlight of a trip. Do you have any experience of this?