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Whenever I need a getaway from the hustle and bustle of Paris, I usually daytrip it to Le Domaine de Marie-Antoinette. Nestled behind the Château du Versailles is a palace called “Le Petit Trianon,” meshed with a dreamy little hamlet created for the Queen. It’s the perfect spot for a little introspection and super cool tranquility in the grass.
Bewitching with its seductive cave, mystic temples, a miniature village (surrounded by pens of farm animals and vegetable plots) and romantic lake (complete with island and lighthouse), it’s no surprise that the countryside in miniature was Marie Antoinette’s favorite retreat from the very public and frenetic life she led back up at the main Château.
Trianon, take me away!
Trekking to Versailles
Get on the RER C line to “Versailles-Rive Gauche.” The scenic train ride takes 30 to 45 minutes.
Tip: Buy a round trip ticket while you’re still in Paris, because by the end of the afternoon ticket lines at the Versailles-Rive Gauche station can be horrifically long, while the self-serve ticket machines are often broken (and the customer is never right). Also, guard your ticket with your life because, unlike the Métro, you also need it to exit the RER. Lose your ticket on either system? Prepare to pay a fine. Cheapos, I have been there.
Going to the Temple of Love
Once you reach the Château du Versailles, start looking for pink and white “Petit Trianon” signs, pennants mentioning the “Hameau,” or green “Le Domaine de Marie-Antoinette” banners. After paying the entrance fee at the gate, you’ll either hoof it down through the gardens and fountains, or take a tram directly there. Personally, I’d walk the walk.
During the warmer months, amazing displays of aquatic artistry bring the palace fountains to life while piped in Lully and other Baroque favorites spray on to everyone’s delight. The weather and your entourage will most likely determine your mode of transportation. Take heed, because along the way you’ll encounter beaucoup steps and uneven ground, especially treacherous after a downpour. Pack your Keds, kids!
The tour (I did it my way)
There’s no set order to touring the grounds. At the Petit Trianon entrance, you’ll find a café with benches and the best chicken salad sandwiches I’ve ever stuck a tooth in. Here you’ll also find a welcome center, a WC, and a gift shop. Pick up a map and plan your route over lunch.
I get my stroll going at the nearby Temple of Love, first paying homage to Cupid with crossed fingers and toes. Then, after putting in a cameo appearance at Marie Antoinette’s delightful little theater, I follow the winding brook down to the hamlet. Do stay on the path! Legend has it that back in 1903 two English women brazenly took a short cut and ended up time-tripping back to the 18th century. So for the love of your pocket-sized technology, stay with your group!
Keeping it real
Marie Antoinette was just 19 years old when hubby Louis XVI gifted the Petit Trianon to her. Initially built for his dad’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour, the royal haven gave Marie Antoinette what she craved most—personal privacy and room to blossom.
Visits were by invitation only, and costumes were kept unusually simple and informal for the time. Banned were big hats, long dress trains, and the wide panniers that put the hustle in the bustle. Soon, intimate co-ed suppers with the King and a handful of friends, and private theater spectacles featuring the Queen, became the norm at her private domain.
On the boards in her very own theater, Marie Antoinette fearlessly took on her alter egos like an 18th-century Lady Gaga or Beyoncé, performing as milkmaids, shepherdesses, and village maidens. Studying theater, opera, and ballet (with celebrity tutors snagged from Paris), she managed to fine-tune her craft while crafting her own idyllic world. Despite her unfortunate fate, in this tiny theater, with its seats for only forty, its walls and ceilings of rich blue velvet and paper-mâché ornaments mimicking shiny gold and sleek, cool marble, her spirited dreams live on. More than anywhere else, you can still feel her presence here, so trust me, Cheapos, don’t miss it.
Oscar Wilde said it best: “Illusion is the first of all pleasures.”
Need a lil’ hameau fix now? Sophia Coppola’s movie “Marie Antoinette” was shot on location.
For more tips on visiting Versailles, check out our article “Day Trip from Paris: The Palace of Versailles.”