The beauty of Versailles is not contained to the world-renowned palace, in fact, it begins long before you reach the chateau itself.

After departing from the hotel on the second morning of EuroTour, our bus traversed over a chaotic highway towards the outskirts of Paris. Eventually, the many graffiti covered tunnels brought us to the City of Versailles. The community surrounding the palace was spectacularly gorgeous, less grand but much more charming than the austerity of Paris’ core. Here, a boulevard covered with a canopy of verdant leaves contrasted against the warm, sand-colored buildings which lined it. The green-way, which separated the two lanes, conveyed lazily strolling residents, families with strollers and cyclists. Versailles was far removed from the chaos of Paris proper.

The city was once the royal capital of France under the Bourbon monarchy. Louis XIV planned the city around his ever-growing estate, making it the center of all the town’s main roads and mandating that it remain the tallest building in the city. His heirs continued the tradition, constantly expanding and renovating the palace up until the French Revolution left it abandoned.

Stepping onto the square before the structure, the constant work that took place on the palace is evident in its almost incomprehensibly mass. In retrospect, after a nearly hour long tour, I realized that we had still only been able to see a fraction of its interior! This massive expanse served both a personal and political purpose to Louis XIV. He believed that he was a divine ruler, bestowed dominion over France by God himself. Building such an expansive palace not only inflated his ego, but also the real-world scope of his power. As cunning as he was arrogant, Louis would amuse much of the nobility at his estate, keeping them enchanted by games and fantasies while he stole their power right from under their noses, centralizing it around his family.

The Palace

My home city is Asheville, North Carolina and its biggest attraction is the Biltmore Estate. This grand structure is the largest privately owned home in the USA and modeled after a French Chateau. My family loves the manor and the exceedingly grand and romantic aura it exudes. I do not exaggerate, though, when I say that Versailles makes Biltmore feel like a backwater, country lodge.

The rooms and corridors, mostly barren of furniture to accommodate the crowds, leave no option for your eyes but to be drawn upward to the ceilings. The hours of labor that must have gone into carving and painting the adornment of all of the palaces rooms is simply mind-boggling to me. The walk through the palace was not all that long—only 45 minutes to an hour—but by the end I was numb to the grand spaces around me. At first, I tried to inspect all the ceiling paintings and the portraits on the walls, but after a dozen rooms it was hard to find the motivation any longer. Part of me longed for the more relatable scale of Biltmore.

Nevertheless, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to enjoy a space that had seen so much—and unfortunately tragic—history. To imagine that revolutionaries had stormed and torn up the halls I stood in, that the very mobs I have read about for years dragged the monarchy and nobles out of their home and executed them. The Palace of Versailles was worth visiting if only to connect with history in this visceral way.

The Gardens

One of the highlights of EuroTour had to be the gardens of Versailles. The section just behind the Palace consists of acres of intricate pathways, weaving through pruned bushes and intersecting on classically inspired fountains. The section beyond the main garden is dominated by a lengthy rectangular lake framed on both sides with long paths, now traversed by cyclists. I envied the residents of the City of Versailles, for the palace’s gardens are free to the public and the thought of coming each evening to ride bikes around one of the most expansive gardens in Europe is enough to make my romantic heart melt.

Versailles exemplifies what a garden can be and my only regret is that I didn’t have the time to wander any farther.