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The Gardens of Versailles
The Gardens of Versailles, designed by André Le Notre, are a key component of the Royal Residence of Versailles. Arguably one of the most beautiful parks in Ile-de-France (and the world!), the Gardens at Versailles are the perfect green getaway from the hustle and bustle of Paris.
Most of the people visit the Versailles Gardens as part of their visit to Versailles Estate, already tired of the château visit (and the crowds) and with not much time left. The truth is that Versailles Gardens are so beautiful, and with so much to see and do that they can be a destination by itself.
And that’s what we are going to do today! So let’s forget about Château de Versailles to get the most out of Versailles Gardens.
History of Versailles Gardens
For King Louis XIV, the Palace of Versailles’ Gardens were as important as the Palace. That’s why in 1661 commissioned André Le Nôtre to design the layout of the Gardens and decoration.
André Le Nôtre was the most famous landscape designer of the time, creator of the typology of the French-style garden. Amongst his most famous works outstand the Gardens of Château de Chantilly, the Gardens of Vaux-le-Vicomte, or the Tuileries Gardens, just to name a few.
For such an important project, André Le Nòtre had the best team ever: Jean-Baptiste Colbert – superintendent of the King’s buildings – did the site and construction management; Charles Le Brun – First Painter to the King – designed the statues and fountains; and there was also the King, who wanted to check all the details by himself.
The works to build the most magnificent gardens out of a land occupied by meadows and marshes were titanic and lasted forty years. Thousands of men, sometimes even entire regiments, took part in this immense project.
But perhaps the main challenge was the water supply: the Seine River, the nearest source of water, was 10 km north of Versailles and at a much lower elevation. The King asked his architects Mansart and Colbert to find a solution: “if water does not arrive at Versailles by itself we will have to carry it! “. Head here to read the whole story of the Eight World Wonder.
The result of his titanic work is one of the most beautiful gardens in the World, listed Unesco World Heritage since 1976.
The Versailles Estate
The Versailles Estate covers a surface of 800 Ha and it is divided into different areas:
- The Royal Palace
- The Trianon Palaces and Marie Antoinette’s Estate
- The Gardens
- The Park
This article will cover only the Gardens of Versailles but you can read about the other places in this post.
Get the Most out of the Gardens at Versailles
The best time to visit the Versailles Gardens is when the fountains are running and the water features spouting. This only happens during the Versailles Gardens Shows, between April to the end of October.
This is also the time when visitors have full access to the Gardens, with all the grooves opened. Several circuits take you to enjoy the best of the gardens or their most secret spots.
There are two different garden shows, happening on different days of the week:
Versailles Fountains Show
Explore the Gardens and grooves while listening to Baroque music and watch a water display with special effects.
Days: Tuesdays (some dates), Saturdays, and Sundays.
Versailles Musical Gardens
Wander through the largest open-air museum, decorated with amazing sculpture, while listening to the beautiful sounds of Baroque music. This show does not include the water display of fountains.
Days: Tuesdays (some dates), and Fridays.
Versailles Gardens Map and Top Sights
The Gardens at Versailles are a key component of the Royal Residence and they surround the Palace on 3 sides. The Gardens follow the typology of the French-style garden, an open system of axial pathways extending as far as the eye can see and punctuated with flowers and low hedges, flower beds, small streams, large lakes, and fountains.
The Gardens are free to visit except from the first of April until the end of October when the Fountain Show ad Musical Gardens show take place.
Today, the Gardens provide the perfect location for a stroll out of the capital. However, it takes quite a while to see all the Gardens in detail, so it may be a good idea to have a plan of what areas you wish to visit. These are, in our opinion the Versailles Gardens main sights, all marked on the Gardens of Versailles map here above:
La Grande Perspective
The Gardens of Versailles are organized around two axes, north-south, and east-west. The north-south axis is also known as the Grande Perspective. The Grand Perspective starts at the Palace and passes the water parterre, the top of the stairs, Latona’s Fountain, the Royal Way, Apollo’s Bassin and the Grand Canal.
The Grand Canal’s layout at Versailles spans a very long distance (3 km) with a relatively little difference of level (30m). The result is a flat vision with excessive optical shortening.
To compensate for the visual shortening of distant parts and achieve an impression of grandeur and dynamic balance, Le Nôtre used the anamorphosis or metric distension: the farther away the geometrical figures were, the longer and wider ought to be. To do this, all the elements of this Grande Perspective are placed within two angular sectors that determine their design. The result is spectacular!
The Fountains of Versailles
Fountains and other water features play an essential role at Versailles Gardens. They are part of the Gardens’ layout and decoration with its design and water reflections but they are also a sound pleasure, as the sound of running water is very relaxing.
In my opinion, the Gardens of Versailles without the fountains running is half of the fun, like a good meal without salt. So if you are going to visit Versailles only once in your life, I recommend doing it during one of the Versailles shows to see the Versailles Gardens as its best.
If you have a look at the Versailles Garden Map, the different blue spots correspond to water basins or pools. Most of them are decorated with a fountain so there are a lot of fountains to see! The top 3 fountains of Versailles that you should not miss, however, are Latona Fountain, Apollo Fountain and Neptune Fountain.
Latona Fountain and Apollo Fountain are part of the Grande Perspective. According to Greek mythology, Apollo was the Sun god and it was frequently associated with King Louis XIV, the Sun King. Latona was the mother of the Gods Apollo and Diana.
Neptune Fountain is the starting point of the east-west axis. This fountain as we can see it today was inaugurated by King Louis XV and it is composed of 99 water jets.
The Grooves of Versailles
The grooves of Versailles are delimited spaces (sometimes secluded spaces) in the forest designed as open-air saloons that saw many court entertainments. These grooves are adorned with fountains, vases and statues, and they introduced an element of surprise or fantasy within the greater garden.
There are different kinds of grooves, and I invite you to get lost and explore as many grooves as you can. Most of the grooves – the most secluded ones – are closed during the wintertime and they are only opened during the Garden shows. If you want to see most of the grooves, visit the Versailles Gardens in the summer.
What are the best grooves in Versailles? Here there are no top or must-see lists of grooves, it depends on people’s taste. Personally, I like the Queen’s Groove and the Colonnade Groove or the Enceladus Groove (these two are closed in winter). Some people, however, prefer the most spectacular Apollo’s Bath Groove (closed in winter).
And there you have it, the best of Versailles Gardens and our best tips. When do you plan on visiting Versailles Gardens?
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