Versailles: A Whole Lot to See, and a Palace

Actors portrayed life in the 18th century during dinner at Reminisens in Versailles.
Actors portrayed life in the 18th century during dinner at Reminisens in Versailles.

When I saw that Versailles was one of the cities we’d be visiting on this trip to three of the Top Cities of France 2019, I was happy because I knew there is always a lot more to a place that is dominated by one big attraction.

Obviously, like the city of Orlando’s Disney World, very few travelers would come to Versailles without a palace visit.  But while it’s impossible not to be dazzled by the Hall of Mirrors or Alain Ducasse’s exquisite cuisine at Ore, I found many other aspects of Versailles very pleasing.

Choosing from the menu at Reminisens in Versailles.
Choosing from the menu at Reminisens in Versailles.

We went to a dinner theater show called Reminiesens, which offered actors in Louis IVX-era costumes presenting scenes from the royal court while we had dinner. The actors switched between French and English, and skillfully switched themes for each table, from royal scandal to trouble in the court. It was both delicious and entertaining, with just the right amount of acting and not too much of making fools out of the audience.

Versailles royal garden
Versailles royal garden

Another highlight of Versailles with a stroll through the Potager du Roi, the King’s gardens, where the court sourced all of its fruits and vegetables for the family and staff.  This is no ordinary garden, it’s the KING’s garden, laid out like the fancy gardens of the nearby palace, with thousands of fruit trees, all trained to grow on horizontal fences that act as borders.

The Salle du Jeu de Paume, the tennis court in Versailles.
The Salle du Jeu de Paume, the tennis court in Versailles.
The earliest tennis racquets were tiny. Salle du Jeu de Palme, Versailles.
The earliest tennis racquets were tiny.

Today the produce that comes from the gardens is sold at a shop and it’s usually gone within 20 minutes. People drive all the way from Paris to buy the prized produce.

A National School of Landscape architecture is located on the grounds, using the carefully laid out gardens as a classroom.

History abounds in this small town of 70,000 residents. The roads all go to the palace, and the size of it dominates.  But for French history, one essential place to see is the Salle du Jeu de Palme, the Tennis Courts, where the game was first played.

Here we see paintings and sculptures that depict the very earliest seeds of democracy in France, which would result in the 1789 revolution.

At one time the hand symbol resembled what would later be co-opted by the Nazis, then it changed to just holding up your palm.
At one time the hand symbol resembled what would later be co-opted by the Nazis, then it changed to just holding up your palm.

The bewigged men behind it all are pictured here. There are also some of the world’s first tennis racquets and those hard tennis balls that used to injure participants.

The King tried to keep the citizens from organizing by closing the Hall of the Hotel des Menus-Plaisirs, so they moved their assembly to the Tennis Court room. There they signed the decree that would doom the monarchy, and create the French republic.

Other highlights of the city include their thrice-weekly flower, vegetable and meat markets, which offer such a bounty of foods and exotic spices.

We popped into some fun shops including a chocolate chop with breathtaking molded chocolates in the shapes of Egyptian mummies and lions, complete with gold detailed edible paints.  Art et Chocolate sets a new bar for art you can eat!

Le Roy Rene is an outpost of the Provence-based confectionary company that makes Calissons, almond-shaped candies with melon candied fruit and a wafer bed.  These cute shops are all staffed by attentive people who really care about their customers–a throwback to when each store was a place to be greeted and taken care of by attentive staff.  Remember that?

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