Versailles, Yvelines audio tour: Hidden Messages from the Sun King: A Guide to the Palace of Versailles' Gardens

Hidden Messages from the Sun King: A Guide to the Palace of Versailles' Gardens

Walking Tour

|
90 mins
|
3mi

About the Tour

The gardens to the west of the Palace of Versailles are unparalleled. On a simple walk, you can meditate in the embrace of 200,000 trees, admire the artistry of 221 sculptures and marvel at the spectacle of 55 fountains shooting water as high as seven meters into the air. But this tour is more than just a pleasant stroll. By the end of it, you’ll be looking at the park in a totally different way.
Our focus is on the hidden messages left by King Louis XIV. They’re lost to average visitors today, 300 years after their creation, but I’ll reveal them to you. The Sun King, as he was known, left absolutely nothing to chance in the gardens, and the details told a story that his subjects understood loud and clear. If you are intrigued by history, mythology, numerology, hydrography, meteorology or astronomy this is a tour for you!

On this tour you’ll discover:
• A man-made view stretching 14km into the distance
• Which mythological character Louis XIV thought he was
• Symbols to identify the seasons and the gods
• Jupiter coming to the aid of his mistress Latona and their demigod twins
• Tales of brave and eternal heroes like Perseus, Hercules, Achilles and more
• Who the city of Paris named for
• Lessons from the tragic demise of Fouquet, once France’s richest man
• The abduction of Proserpina and how this changed the weather
• How Louis XIV became the Sun King
• What book was brought to life in these gardens

This tour fully immerses you in the experience the Sun King had in mind when he planted these gardens, with a soundscape of background music, original performance and special effects. Voices of historical figures and statues are resurrected along with dramatic narration. Your guide’s humor, pop culture references and unique perspective make this tour enjoyable and thoughtful.

For the mythological characters mentioned in this tour, I use their Roman names, because that's how the French call them. Here are translations…

Roman - Greek - French names of mythological figures mentioned:
Achilles - Achilleus - Achille - The most famous Greek in the Trojan War, whose strength and bravery are unrivaled. Achilles is selfless, courageous, and devoted to the gods—he is the finest Greek warrior. His mother, the sea-nymph Thetis, has made him invulnerable everywhere except his heel, and that is where he is struck and killed.
Andromeda - Andromeda - Andromède - daughter of Casseopeia, rescued by Perseus.
Apollo - Appolo - Appolon - demigod, son of Jupiter (Zeus) and Latona, and Diana's twin, he is the god of Light and Truth, the master of Poetry and Music, and the god of Archery.
Aristaeus - Aristaios - Aristée - son of Apollo, he's a shepherd and beekeeper.
Bacchus - Dionysus - Bacchus - representing Fall, he's the god of wine. He embodies both the good and evil effects of alcohol. At times he is a jovial partier and patron of music and art, but at other times he is the god of madness and frenzy.
Ceres - Demeter - Ceres - representing Summer, Roman name: Ceres. Though a sister of Zeus, Demeter lives on earth. Demeter is the goddess of corn and harvest. She is kinder than Dionysus but also sadder, mostly because Hades has taken her daughter, Persephone, as his reluctant bride. Demeter thus lies in mourning for four months of the year, leaving the fields barren.
Cupid - Eros - Cupidon - son of Venus, a baby with wings who shoots arrows which make mortals fall in love.
dauphin - the next in line to become king
Diana - Artemis - Diane - demigoddess, daughter of Jupiter, and Apollo’s twin sister, Diana is the beautiful huntress
Enceladus - Enkélados - Encelade - giant who revolted against Jupiter.
Flora - Chloris - Flore - Goddess of flowers representing Spring.
Juno - Hera - Junon - wife and sister of Jupiter.
Hercules - Heracles - Hercule - son of Zeus who rises to Olympus at his death. Hercules is renowned for his incredible strength and bravery, but he lacks intelligence and self-control. Most of his adventures begin with a horrible mistake that he makes and then attempts to fix. His most famous feats, the Twelve Labors of Hercules, are the punishment he receives for murdering his family in a fit of madness.
Ino - Ino - Ino - queen of the seas, mother of Melicertes.
Jupiter - Zeus - Jupiter - king of the gods, father of Apollo and Diane, lover of Latona and quite a few others.
Latona - Leto - Latone - Mother of Apollo and Diane.
Melicertes - Palaemon - Melicerte - the "guardian of ships" and son of Ino.
Milo of Croton - Milonos of Croton - Milon de Crotone - the greatest athlete Greece knew during his time.
Minerva - Athena - Minèrve - goddess of war, and protector of arts she emerges from Jupiter's head fully-grown and armed. Associated with war, cleverness, and wit, it is no surprise that she favors Ulysses and supports all heros.
Neptune - Poseidon - Neptune - God of the Sea
Pandora - Pandora - Pandore - The most famously foolish woman of Greek myth. Married to Epimetheus, Prometheus’s simple-minded brother, she has been entrusted with a box that the gods have told her never to open. Pandora peeks inside the box, unleashing evil into the world. She manages to close the box just in time to save Hope, humankind’s only solace.
Paris - Son of the King of Troy, Paris unwittingly starts the Trojan War by judging Venus the fairest of all the goddesses. Venus arranges for Paris to marry the beautiful Helen of Troy, but Helen is already married. Helen’s kidnapping leads the Greeks to unite against Troy and sparks the decade-long Trojan War.
Perseus - Perseus - Persée - son of Jupiter and a heroic figure.
Pluto - Hades - Pluton - uncle of Proserpina, brother of Zeus and Poseidon, Pluto rules the underworld, the realm of the dead, with his wife, Proserpina
Proserpina - Persephone - Proserpine - daughter of Ceres, wife of Pluto
Salacia - Amphitrite - Amphitrite - wife of Neptune, goddess of salt, Queen of the Sea, Sea Life (fish, shellfish, sea-mammals)
Saturn - Cronus - Saturne - representing Winter, becomes the ruler of the Titans by overthrowing his father Ouranos. He swallows each of his children as his wife Rhea gives birth to them. Rhea is able to save one, Zeus, who forces Cronus to vomit up his siblings, with whom he defeats the Titans for control of the universe.
Sphinx - A beast with the head of a woman and the body of a winged lion. The Sphinx blocks entry to the city of Thebes, refusing to budge until someone answers her riddle and eating anyone who fails. When Oedipus solves the riddle, the Sphinx promptly kills herself.
Thetis - Thetys - Téthys - the titan god daughter of Earth and Sky.
Titans - The original gods, children of Heaven and Earth, and parents of the six original Olympians. Defeated by Zeus and his siblings in a war for control of the universe, most of the Titans are imprisoned in the bowels of the earth. Prometheus, who sides with Zeus, and his two brothers, Epimetheus and Atlas, are not imprisoned. Atlas is forced to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders forever.
Triton - Triton - Triton - Son of Neptune and Salacia whose numerous offspring are also called tritons, and resemble the male form of mermaids, or mermen.
Ulysses - Odysseus - Ulysse - the hero of Homer's Odyssey.
Venus - Aphrodite - Vénus - the sweet and delicate goddess of Love, Beauty, and Romance. Mother of Cupid.

Sound credits: voices: Joe Start; effects: freesfx.co.uk sound-fishing.net
Music: musopen.org

Tour Producer

avatar

Joe Start

Hi, I'm Joe, the author of French License, a tragicomedy travel memoir, and The Chairfather companion photo book to my tours on VoiceMap. After graduating with a journalism degree, I jumped over to the advertising and marketing side of communications. My day job has been selling media and technology in the US and Europe for more than a dozen years, lately with startups.

I write non-fiction about my adventures as an American expat abroad, first-person travel memoirs, cross-cultural observations, the impact of technological innovation on individuals, the history of food, the crossroads of ingredients recipes and culture, and recreational sailing. If you like this stuff too, let's connect on social media or my site.

Major Landmarks

  • Palace of Versailles

  • gardens of Versailles

  • Grand Canal. More than 90% of the points of interest I take you to on this tour are visible year-round.

Directions to Starting Point

The train is the best way to reach Versailles. RER line C arrives at Versailles Château - Rive Gauche train station, just 10 minutes’ walk to the Palace.
SNCF trains from Gare Montparnasse arrive at Versailles Chantiers train station, which is 18 minutes on foot to the Palace.
SNCF trains from Gare Saint Lazare arrive at Versailles Rive Droite train station, 17 minutes on foot to the Palace.
By car, there are many parking spaces near the Palace, but all are paid-for, and require a European credit card. The Place d'Armes parking is the most convenient right in front of the Palace however it costs twice as much as street parking in the city which is also close if available. Don’t chance leaving your car at a spot which appears free. I had my car impounded, along with hundreds of others which were all parked illegally under a row of trees.
Arriving at the vast esplanade, don’t get confused by the immense lines snaking across the cobblestones. There’s almost never a line for the gardens.
When you see the gilded gates, walk to the far left, past the lines, past the ticket office and look for Entrance A through the courtyard of the princes or ‘Cour des Princes.’ Most days entry is free. Other days you pay after the archway, where the garden commences. Buying a ticket ahead of time online is more trouble than it’s worth, unless you wish to also visit the Palace.

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Tips

Places to stop along the way

You’ll have opportunities at the beginning and three other times to get rest for your feet or refreshment for your belly or relief for your bladder. There are many benches everywhere to sit inside the gardens.

Before or after the tour, you may want to visit a café, restaurant or bar in the town outside the gates…

Pouce café
32 rue d’Anjou, 78000 Versailles, France
01 30 24 60 14
http://www.poucecafe.fr

Crêperie la Place restaurant
17 rue Colbert, 78000, Versailles, France
01 39 49 09 52
https://www.laplaceversailles.fr/en/

Dorian’s Pub
12 Rue André Chénier, 78000 Versailles, France
http://dorianspub.fr

Best time of day

Best time of day
Any time is good, but you'll want to begin before 3pm so the visit isn't rushed. Why not start out in the morning? The gardens open as early as 8am. The long shadows in the early light make for stunning scenes.

Best time to walk:
I would highly recommend walking the gardens on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays from April to October. On these days, there is an entry fee of around €11 to the gardens, which includes a water or music show. Tickets can be bought at the garden entrance, and you don’t have to buy a €38 ticket to the Palace, although if you do, the gardens are included. All of the groves are open on these days.

Tuesday is the absolute best day, where you get to see the full show, and there are fewer tourists. Fridays are my least favorite, because most of the fountains are not running, but the entry fee is the same.

If you visit a different day, six of the groves I take you to will be closed off, you’ll have to peer through closed gates, and redirect your path. Most of the year, the garden is free to visit, and open almost always (363 days), including most holidays, from at least 8am to 5:30pm.

Unlike the Palace, which seems crowded year-round, and rushed with throngs of tourists pushing you forward faster than you want to go, the gardens always offer elbow room and time for a leisurely stroll or a sit for hours in a spot all to yourself. You could literally spend the entire day there from dawn to dusk, and many people do.

My favorite time to visit is Spring, when the 200 000 newly planted flowers are in bloom. Or in Summer when the ‘Grandes Eaux’ jets of water, and the ‘Eaux Musicales’ spectacles are going on, with accompanying 17th-century music. You may need to turn up the volume on your headphones, or move farther from the speakers at these times to better hear me.

September 5th is perhaps the best day of all, when you can observe the setting sun shining directly over the Grand Canal, reflecting on the Palace. It was the Sun King’s birthday after all!

In the dead of Winter, (Nov-Mar) many of the statues are covered in white cloth to protect them, the fountains remain off, and 8 of the 14 groves are closed.

Please note that the groundskeepers often block certain entrances, or close entire groves without warning, and without informing staff, much less tour guides. When this happens, please refer to the map, and divert your trajectory to the next nearest location. At any point, you can replay the audio for a location which was off-limits to you. The location closest to you will play automatically when you walk near it.

Precautions

Comfortable flat-soled shoes are a necessity. High heels might dig into the path, and some of the terrain may be dirt or moist earth.
Wheelchairs should be OK, as there are little to no stairs on our path, and easy ways to go around.
Versailles does rent electric golf-cart-like cars, but I don’t recommend them. The cars must stay on the wide alleys, and this tour mostly uses smaller paths, and never doubles-back to retrieve a parked vehicle.
Depending on the season and the planned upkeep of the domain, some of the Woods may be closed for repairs, or only allow entrance from one way. This may alter the route you must take. Since I can’t anticipate when and how the park might change, if this happens to you on your tour, I suggest you consult the map in the application to find your way to the next location. Even if you aren’t directly in front of the off-limits location, you can still play the audio. I promise you won’t miss any part of the story!

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Hidden Messages from the Sun King: A Guide to the Palace of Versailles' Gardens