Versailles….While Versailles Palace and its gardens, are obviously very beautiful, there is a place that for many, myself included, seems even more beautiful. The Hameau de la Reine is less known than the Versailles, but is no less worth a visit.
Visiting Versailles Palace and its gardens took me almost the entire day. You could lose hours, in the seemingly never-ending gardens of Versailles. I used the time I had left, to explore the more rural side of the complex. The closure of the Versailles doors was nearing and basically I had only two hours left. The fact that Marie Antoinette’s village is in a bit of distance from the main palace wasn’t helping me at all. I thought that I would need forty minutes to get there and the same, to get back. That gave me not more than forty minutes to explore the spot. It had to be enough. If only my way there wouldn’t be interrupted few times by a poor signposting and a field of goats that I couldn’t help but stop to look at.
Eventually I found the village. From the Petit Trianon to the Queen’s Gardens, passing by the Hamlet, the Estate, opened in 2006, reveals Marie Antoinette’s private life. Here, away from the pressures of the Royal Court, and husband, she pretended to be a milkmaid and a farm girl.
Marie Antoinette ordered the construction of her hamlet in 1783. The Versailles complex is majestic and beautiful, but the hamlet has a different kind of beauty, one that is more quaint as if it would come out of Snow White or the Sleeping Beauty fairy tales. According to the Queen’s wishes, animals were brought from Switzerland, and were raised on the farm: cows, bulls, calves, goats and sheep. Small orchards of apple trees and cherry trees were also planted.
The Queen’s House is the most important building of the hamlet. In fact, it is composed of two separate buildings joined by a wooden gallery. From the top of the gallery, the lady of Trianon could oversee the work being done in the fields.
Louis XVI’s wife loved this place where she could return to the pleasures of simple, rural pursuits, away from the pomp of Versailles. Maybe a royal life is not so pleasant as it seems. Would you believe that? Sweeping away the old court and its traditions, the queen insisted on living as she wished. In her Trianon domain, which Louis XVI gave her as a gift, she found the haven of privacy, that enabled her to escape from the rigours of court etiquette anytime she grew tired of the hectic lifestyle at Versailles. Nobody could come to the hamlet without her invitation and permission. Only a select group was actually allowed onto the property.
The estate has own lake and a lake tower on it. The Malborough Tower is a sort of beacon towering above the bank of the Big Lake that was the starting point of boat rides or fishing outings. Its upper part was used as an observatory making it possible to communicate with the palace of Versailles via light signals.
The garden that surrenders to Marie Antoinette’s fairytale hamlet is of the English style. Marie Antoinette preferred the more natural style of the fashionable English gardens, as opposed to the French order imposed upon meticulous greenhouses and manicured garden and flower beds. A small temple is set amongst this garden. The Temple of Love is sculpted from white marble and houses a statue of Cupid. It looks like a place of romantic trysts, but in real life it served something else. Before the revolution, Marie Antoinette and her friends used to host parties in the garden and plays were performed in the temple.
Everything is just so peaceful, that I think that connoisseurs of countryside life wouldn’t mind spending the rest of their lives there and I guess they would find it very difficult to leave. I was sad that my visit was so short and I had to leave this place so soon; and I’m not a countryside lover.
As beautiful as it is, the construction of the hamlet was controversial. The citizens of France got really riled up about the new estate and palace because they thought it just showed off the excess spending of the royal family. Soon France was about to enter a new path of its history … a path without a King and without a Queen.