Biking your way through Versailles

by Sharon Odegaard
Stripes Europe

The city of Versailles is known as the home of the imposing royal chateau of the same name. Versailles, the palace, housed kings and queens and hosted the treaty negotiations at the end of WWI. Famous occupants Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI lived here until their arrest and early deaths. The palace and grounds occupy a vast area, which provides the perfect opportunity to tour the outside by bike.

You can rent bikes or book an organized bike tour. Bicycle rentals can be found on palace grounds, the Grille de la Reine or at the Porte Saint-Antoine. We signed up for the 9-hour tour with Fat Tire Bikes and we’re so glad we did. This tour includes skip-the-line admission to the palace after you turn in your bike, and train tickets from and back to Paris.

Discovering the little city of Versailles proved to be one of the unexpected pleasures of the day. Many people ride the 30-minute train ride from Paris and head straight to the palace. Instead, we walked to downtown Versailles to pick up our bikes at the company office there.

Photo by Sharon Odegaard

That day happened to be “market day” in Versailles, which is famed for one of the best farmer’s markets in France. Our guide turned us loose to find something for our picnic lunch. Cheeses, fruit, fresh baguettes, caramels and pastries – we were spoiled for choice.

Photo by Sharon Odegaard

Back to the bikes, we stashed our goodies and pedaled to the palace grounds. Our excellent guide gave us a brief history of Versailles as we coasted along the tree-lined paths and took in the beauty of the greenery.

The tour first stopped at the Trianon palaces. These are two smaller homes used by royalty when they wanted to get away from the rules and expectations of life at the main palace. You can park your bike and go inside to enjoy the art and furnishings.

Next, we cycled through the English Gardens and arrive at the life-sized play village known as Marie-Antoinette’s Hamlet. Marie-Antoinette enjoyed donning peasant clothes and spent her days in this village, which is today a working farm. Besides the crops grown here, you’ll also find goats and dogs (rescued from a shelter). It’s easy to see why Marie-Antoinette loved to “play” in this peaceful place. At the end of the day, the queen walked across the lawn to return to the palace for dinner.

For lunch, we rode to the end of the grand canal and set up our royal picnic on the lawn. Our guide provided plates and utensils and the all-important corkscrew for local wines. We settled back to bask in the view of the vast backyard of the palace.

Photo by Sharon Odegaard

If you want to go inside the palace as well as ride around the grounds, the palace is open every day except Monday from 9:00 to 5:30. To save time in line, you can purchase different kinds of general admission tickets online. Versailles also has an app with maps and information, as well as notices of concerts and special events. The gardens are open every day for no charge.
 
Whether you leisurely stroll through the palace, or participate in an active bike tour, touring Versailles is a neat way to explore this little French city.

 

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