• LOCATION 76 | Hidden Messages from the Sun King: A Guide to the Palace of Versailles' Gardens

    End tour & Bonus

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

    This is the end of our walk, but I have one or two more things to share.

    Today's post-revolutionary French populace both admires the glory of the absolute rule of Louis XIV, and cherishes the personal liberty of democracy. Versailles belongs to all French people, who open it to the public for the world to see. You are one of seven million souls who come here annually.

    If your legs are not too tired, I'd recommend a visit to the Queen's farm, the Hameau de la Reine, which was recently restored to the way it was in Marie Antoinette's time. Or you could leave that to tomorrow. There's so much to see in Versailles, you really should take 2-3 days, seeing the Palace on a different day from the gardens.

    If you're feeling hungry or thirsty now, I have café, restaurant and bar recommendations within walking distance mentioned in the show notes.

    If you haven’t yet gone on The Chairfather tours, and would like to meet some personalities who knew how to live, like Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison, download the tours and head to Paris, a short 20-min train ride away from Versailles.

    There are three train stations within walking distance from here, and all go to Paris. Look for indications in the show notes.

    Wherever you go from here, I thank you for choosing to start going places with me, Joe Start. Let me know what you thought by rating the tour on the app, or by visiting startgoingplaces.com. Please share the tour page on social media to help your friends around the world discover walks near them.

    Now for your bonus... Underneath the staircase of 100 steps on the garden side leading to the Orange Grove is a little-known jewel that's rarely visited, although it's open to the public when the orange trees are out. The above-ground spot is indicated now on the map on your device.

    Behind the immense yellow windows and doors surrounding the Orange Grove is a huge C-shaped arcade, with a vaulted ceiling 20 meters high. To get there, you descend the stairs, make a U-turn around the gate, and go in the first open door you see. If you're having trouble, ask a gardener how you can get in. You could try saying "Excusez-moi, je voudrais voir le bain des favorites, s'il vous plaît," or try English.

    Inside, you'll see a long and vast corridor on your right. At the angle between arcades, you'll see a set of stairs. Walk up and you'll see a platform with two statues on your left, one female, one male. These are classically beautiful, but they are not why I brought you here. I'd like to draw your attention instead to the ground. There you will see an octagonal pool which looks very much like a jacuzzi.

    This one was also made for relaxing in water, however it's cut from a single block of rose-colored marble, and weighs more than 12 tons! It was originally installed on the ground floor of the Palace, in a room called the 'appartment of baths.' It was created and transported inside the Palace more than 24000 livres (easily half a million euro at the time), to satisfy the caprice of one of Louis XIV's 'favorites,' probably Madame de Montespan. Since there are no holes in the bottom or sides, and marble is a poor conductor of heat from below, the only way to get warm water inside is to heat cauldrons outside and pour out the contents into the pool. Even going through the trouble, which would take hours, it wouldn't stay warm inside for long. So, folks in Louis XIV's time would instead take a cold bath!

    Louis XV's favorite, Madame de Pompadour, had it moved by 22 of the king's men to her estate about a kilometer from here. After the revolution, the property was acquired privately, and the pool changed hands often, each time moved at great expense to homes in Neuilly or Le Vésinet in the western suburbs of Paris. Most owners kept it in their gardens, not just because of the weight, but also because the width complicates the matter, as it only barely fits through the largest of double-doors if you stand it up on its side.

    Finally, about 90 years ago, the curator of the Palace bought it back, easily for another half million, from the estate of a certain Monsieur Montesquiou, and transported it to Versailles. Here it sits ever since, seldom used or seen.

    It's not every day you get to dip your feet in a $1M private royal bath for free. So, why not do it now, and count yourself among the favorites? I hope you've enjoyed this exclusive bonus!

    To exit, retrace your steps and quit the arcades, then up the stairs, past the Sphinx and through to the exit. Be sure to wear a knowing smile so others recognise that you are now one of the privileged ones.

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