Versailles Renewed

One of Europe’s greatest sights gets a facelift

By: By Susan James


Chateau de Versailles Information
Palace ticket with audio guide in eight languages: $27 in high season and $20 from Nov. 20-March 9 (age 18 and up; under 18 is free).

Pullman Versailles Chateau
Located right near the palace, this is a very comfortable four-star hotel.

Single or double standard room: $536

Single or double deluxe room: $645

Commission: 10 percent

Visitors to Versailles will see a renovated palace, including Louis XVI’s council chamber shown here. // (c) Susan James
Visitors to Versailles will see a renovated palace, including Louis XVI’s council chamber shown here. 

Versailles is one of the most beloved tourist sights in France, and the Grand Versailles Project, under the auspices of the French Ministry of Culture, plans to keep it that way. Launched in 2003 and slated for completion in 2020, the project combines a comprehensive group of restoration projects that will return the palace to its glory days under the French monarchy.

Built in 1623 for Louis XIII as a small hunting lodge, Versailles had grown into a sprawling royal city of 1,300 rooms and 5,000 residents by the time of the French Revolution. Today, the palace with its 4 million visitors a year is a vast, busy, perpetually ongoing work of restoration. A number of recently completed projects have added visual excitement to the visitor’s experience and a list of future projects promise even more. A three-year, $16 million restoration of the Galerie des Glaces, or Hall of Mirrors, was unveiled in June 2007, the result of the largest cultural sponsorship operation ever undertaken in France led by the construction and concession group VINCI. Arguably the most beautiful room in Europe, the mirrors of the Galerie that once reflected the splendor of the Sun King, Louis XIV, and the scandalous flirtations of Queen Marie Antoinette glitter again in the light of a dozen crystal chandeliers.

On Oct. 2, Le Petit Trianon, part of the Versailles estate granted to Marie Antoinette by Louis XVI in 1774, reopened after a complete renovation lasting a year and costing $7.2 million. Built as a pleasure pavilion for Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour, the Petit Trianon was converted by Marie Antoinette into an exquisite private playhouse, surrounding it with English gardens and allowing in only specially invited guests. There is an irony in the choice of opening date as it occurred on the 219th anniversary of the removal of the royal family from Versailles and the beginning of a revolution that would take the head from the shoulders of Le Petit Trianon’s royal mistress.

Another major change at Versailles is the ongoing refurbishment of Le Grand Commun, a separate wing of the palace containing the royal kitchens. The Grand Versailles Project plans to move all of the office space now located in the palace proper into Le Grand Commun and renovate the royal rooms for visitors. Furniture once belonging to the palace, like a desk of King Louis-Philippe, is being purchased and reinstalled. The Project’s goal is to open as much of the palace to the public as possible and on the planning boards are a new cafeteria, a library and archives, a new bookshop, expanded restroom space and better handicapped facilities, including a special viewing circuit.

One of the most serene new additions to Versailles is the lovely little restaurant of La Petite Venise (Little Venice) in the old boating shed near the Grand Canal.