Any visit to the Jardins of Versailles is a treat, but a visit during Les Grandes Eaux Musicales (The Musical Fountains Show) is spectacular beyond measure. Each summer for a short time, all of the fountains are brought to breathtaking life and accompanied by period music which is piped throughout the Jardins. Most of the fountains date back to the 17th century so they are only turned on for a short period of time to avoid wear and tear. But, with ticket in hand, you are provided with a detailed map of the Jardin which includes all the fountains and what times they are turned on. Some are on for an hour and a half, some for an hour and a few for only half an hour. Once the first fountain springs to life, the others are gradually added to allow you to follow them throughout the Jardin. I felt like a kid in an amusement park trying to be the first to every ride as I dashed from one fountain to another. Each one unique in its own right, it was difficult to tear myself away but I knew if I was going to be able to see them all in the short time allotted, I would need to keep moving. As luck would have it though, the day I was there, all the fountains were turned on at the same time, rather than one group in the morning and another in the afternoon. This was such a blessing as it gave me an opportunity to see them all as I moved throughout the Jardin. Adding to the spectacle was the beautiful period music that was playing throughout the Jardin giving one a sense of being there during the 17th century.
The Enceladus Basin was built between 1675 and 1677 and depicts a Titan buried beneath the rocks of Mount Olympus. Made of gilded lead this massive Titan comes to life as water shoots from his mouth, pours from his hands and flows like lava down the rocks around him as they forever hold him prisoner as he battles against death. The Basin is nestled in woods that have been cut back and surrounded by trellis and lattice work and it is by far one of my favorites.
The Latona Basin has recently been fully restored to its gilded magnificence. Originally created in 1670 it was later modified between 1687-1689. It depicts the legend of Latonia, mother of Apollo and Diana. Insulted by the peasants of Lycia, she asked Jupiter to avenge her. He did so by turning them into frogs and lizards. Latonia is at the center of the fountain carved from white marble. She is surrounded by frogs and turtles which spout water in concentric circles around the fountain. Two additional basins to either side of her depict the peasants as lizards. The Latona Basin is one of the first major fountains in the Jardin and faces the Grand Canal.
I could go on and on about the fountains, but I will allow you the opportunity to experience them yourself in the photos I have included below. I have tried to include two of each fountain – one off and one one – to give you the sense of life that appears when they are turned on.
Additionally, one must not miss the Grand Trianon and my personal favorite, the Petit Trianon. Both require a separate ticket from the main Chateau. I would suggest purchasing them on-line to avoid the long lines at the Chateau. However, if you forget, you can always bypass the lines at the main Chateau, enter the Jardins and walk to the Grand or Petit Trianon and purchase tickets there. The lines are shorter. The Grand Trianon was built by Louis XIV in 1687 and was the work of his Royal architect Hardouin-Mansart. It was originally a place where the King could retreat from the rigors of court and enjoy some quite time with a few select favorites. Surrounded by gardens of flowers it is a beautiful place to visit.
The Petit Trianon was originally instigated by Madame de Pompadour, the one-time favorite of Louis XV. She unfortunately did not live to see it completed. Built by Gabriel between 1763-1768 he broke with the traditional rococo style and adopted a more cubic form which was more in style at the time. Each of the four facades is different and reflects the space it looks onto – the courtyard, the French garden, the botanic garden and the flower garden. In 1774 Louis XVI gifted the Petit Trianon to his wife Marie-Antoinette which she used to escape from the overwhelmingly oppressive life at court in the main Chateau. Be sure to purchase a private tour of the Petit Trianon as you will be treated to seeing private rooms that the public is not allowed to see which includes entrance into the Queen’s Theatre where you can still see the last set used by Marie-Antoinette before the revolution. The Petit Trianon is not the only thing to see while visiting this distant location at Versailles. Marie-Antoinette had a Hamlet built where she and her select favorites could live like peasants in a vast village complete with ponds, farms and animals. This Hamlet is beautifully maintained today with thatched roofs, vegetable gardens, ducks, chickens, cows and peacocks. It is a short walk from the Petit Trianon but one is transported to another world once you arrive. It is easy to see why the doomed Queen felt so at ease here.
Needless to say, there is much to see in the Jardins du Versailles. If you are fortunate enough to visit, be sure to allow at least a day to explore them. Whether you rent a row boat and go out on the Grand Canal, or just sit in on a bench and enjoy the view, this is a magical place with rewards beyond measure for those willing to enjoy it. There are restaurants and snack shops along with ice-cream and drink carts to satisfy your hunger or thirst. If walking is difficult you can rent a golf cart and use it for the day to get around, or you can rent a bike or take one of the trams that travels from the main Chateau to the far reaches of the Jardin. Allow yourself to get lost in its beauty and history and I promise it will be a day that will stay with you forever.