Sunday, November 5, 2017

C is for: Champagne! {Part I: Versailles}

It was around this time last fall when my friend John reached out to me with an unusual request. He was planning a special present for his wife Kim's birthday, wanting to gift her a girls trip, a fun getaway and little break from work and mommy life. (Insert "awwww" sound effects here.)

Being the frequent globe trotter that I am and one of Kim's closest friends, I was a natural choice and I of course said yes! That was the easy part. Deciding on the perfect location was a bit more challenging.

We quickly came to the conclusion that a visit to the Champagne region of France would be on the itinerary, considering our mutual obsession affinity for the bubbly. After pondering several other Western Europe locations, we eventually came to the conclusion that sticking within north-central France made the most sense.

Seeing as how neither of us had been to Versailles, we added that to the list, and rounded it out with a couple days in Paris. Oui oui!

Versailles: Just 12 miles southwest of Paris, Versailles is a wealthy suburb with a giant tourist attraction: the Palace of Versailles, former home to King Louis XIV. The palace and grounds are absolutely massive and over the top, definitely a sight to see. You could easily plan it as a day trip from Paris, but we decided to take this opportunity to splurge on a nice hotel and live like queens on our first night in France, while warding off our jet lag. 

Getting there: You can easily just take the train to Versailles from Paris (especially if you are only doing a day trip.) If you choose this option, the closest station to the palace is Versailles Ch√Ęteau Rive Gauche. However, we wanted to have a car for the Reims portion of our stay, so we decided to drive. It was a quick trip from the airport, and once we figured out how to program the car's GPS in English as opposed to French, we were there in no time. 

As I mentioned, this was our "splurge" hotel of the trip, and the Trianon Palace lived up to its price tag. It's a Waldorf Astoria property, and we truly felt like royalty during our short one night stay. The hotel is adjacent to the Palace grounds, which made for a serene and also convenient location. 

After arriving separately on our red eye flights, we got to the hotel fairly early, so we did have breakfast in one of the restaurants on the property (both are Gordon Ramsey spots.) To be honest, I was jet lagged and it was sort of a blur, but I remember it being tasty (though pricey.) Perhaps the best thing we ate in Versailles was an assortment of meats, cheeses, bread, mustards and wine that we purchased from a small market nearby. The entire thing cost us less than 20 euros and was a perfect way to unwind after our first day in France. We watched the sunset, while looking out on the little goat park off our balcony. 

We weren't sure who these goats belonged to, but they sure were cute! We truly had been transported to the French countryside as we listened to them "bahhh'ing" during our makeshift balcony picnic. 

Another reason we picked this hotel was for the beautiful Guerlain Spa. In the end, we didn't end up purchasing any treatments (180€ for a massage seemed a little steep), but use of the entire spa complex is complimentary for hotel guests (as are the fitness center and tennis courts.) We definitely took advantage of the steam room and sauna to relax our tired muscles. The pool is modeled after a royal Grecian bathhouse, with sunlight splashing in from the solarium, and there's even a little sun deck to catch some rays. 

Where to eat: Ore Restaurant
One of Alain Ducasse's restaurants, Ore is a convenient spot for lunch or afternoon tea in Versailles, as it's located right on the palace grounds, overlooking the large Pavilion Dufour. I originally selected it because they offer a "skip the line" pre fixe lunch option for those planning to visit the chateau. After chatting, we discovered that neither of us really cared if we toured the castle... our main interest was seeing the gardens and walking the grounds. This also allowed us to simply order off the regular lunch menu. We each had their take on Croque Monsieur, a small but delicious grilled ham and cheese sandwich. We also shared a salad with fresh tomatoes and goat's cheese. Both were delicious, but neither were mind-blowing and it was on the pricier side. That said, it remains a great option for breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea if you are going to be visiting the palace. They also offer special dinners on certain nights. 

Obviously the main attraction here is the Chateau de Versailles, and it's definitely worth a visit, even if you only visit the park and gardens as we did. The Palace is open every day except Mondays, but the gardens are open everyday. The gardens are generally free, except during days in which they have the Musical Fountains Show. From March through October, this happens on Saturdays, Sundays, some Tuesdays and some holidays. We were there on a Sunday, so we did have to pay the small entrance fee (8,50€), but we were treated to the fountains and musical show. Certain fountains go off every 10-15 minutes, while there is a main show twice a day involving most of the fountains and all of it set to music. (It's best to coordinate your visit based on the fountain schedule, available on the palace website.) Definitely allow a couple of hours to explore the grounds, and wear comfortable walking shoes!

A couple of my favorite fountains from our walk: the Dragon fountain (left) and the Enceladus Fountain (right).

Mirror Fountain (left) has a musical display on these days every ten minutes from 10am until 7pm. There are also little concession stands located throughout the grounds. I recommend stopping for some ice cream, especially if it's a nice day!

Thanks again to Trianon Palace for a short but wonderful stay, the perfect way to kick off our French adventure. Up next: Reims


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