Day 6: Versailles Palace, Monet’s Garden and Montmartre
The Six Day Adventure in France Continues:
Photos by Chris Card Fuller ©2008
Normally, I wouldn’t suggest trying to visit both Versailles and Monet’s Garden in the same day, but few of us have the luxury to enjoy two weeks in France. That’s when ‘time management’ comes in handy – or dumb luck.
Those of you who’ve been reading Parislogue for the past few years know that Parisgirl is no wizard when it comes to ‘time management’ and organization, but I do know something about the French lunch.
If you want to beat the crowd – and traffic jams- go wherever you’re going at lunchtime. Thanks to going against the flow and driving during the lunch hour, we managed to see Monet’s Garden and Versailles in the same day.
There’s no ‘best’ season to visit Monet’s Garden. The gardens open in April and close on October 31st. It’s also closed on Mondays except for certain bank holidays.
If you love roses and waterlilies, June is when you’ll see both in bloom. You’ll also find tour buses in proliferation unless you happen to arrive as we did at 12:45 pm on a Tuesday afternoon.
The most convenient parking can be found by driving PAST the gardens, then turning left into the road that leads through the village (it actually looks almost like an alley from the main road). Then, backtrack to the parking lot which is located directly across from the admissions entrance to the museum.
Avoid the gardens on weekends, particularly Sundays. If you have a student in your group, be sure that he or she brings along her student ID card for a reduction.
Although I love the roses, I’ve noticed a greater variety of flowers at other times of the year – the tulips and irises, the wisteria hanging from the Japanese bridge can all be enjoyed in early spring. Visit Monet’s garden in fall when the dahlias practically dance. There is no perfect season for the garden – just the perfect time of day. You cannot eat in the garden – so save your picnic later.
This is one time you’ll want to make sure your camera battery is fully charged – and that you have plenty of free space on your memory stick. (No pictures are allowed inside Monet’s house). Don’t miss visiting the house which includes a collection of his Japanese print collection.
Strolling around the waterlily pond is the best sort of exercise in meditation. Separate from your group for a few minutes and commune with this microcosm of serenity. There are few places like this in the world (that have been orchestrated by one man). So many of us love Monet’s work – and we love him as a gardener with a vision just as much as a painter with a joyful palette.
Hopefully, you’ve already seen some of Monet’s original paintings back in Paris (as we did on Day 2 – Museum Day). One of the Japanese bridge series can be seen at Musee d’Orsay, but if you’re looking for the huge waterlily series, you’ll want to go to the Orangerie. Another ‘can’t miss’ museum for Monet fans is the Musee Marmottan which houses his later works when he was beginning to loose his vision (these are some of my favorites).
Just this past week, Monet’s Waterlilies sold at auction in London for £40.92 Million (app $80 Million). Somehow, I don’t think that would have surprised Monsieur Monet in the least.
After visiting the gardens, you can lunch in a garden-like ambiance just next to the parking lot across from the entrance to the gardens. The restaurant has two sections – a take-out window and a sit-down restaurant. The service is quick and professional (so, we’ve noted after several meals). Salads are available as well as full meals. Try the chocolate cake for dessert (it’s served warm). Sit-down guests have free access to the facilities (but you must ask for a ‘jeton’ in place of a coin to open the door.
If you’re not planning on going to Versailles, take some time to walk around the small village (other painters have galleries in town).
Versailles can be reached via the A13 motorway. We’ll be arriving from the west (from Normandy). Be sure to take the exit for Versailles Centre (or central Versailles). You would think that the Chateau de Versailles exit would be clearly indicated (but it isn’t when you come from the west).
This exit will actually bring you past the palace gardens’ back entrance. You can park here and rent bicycles in the park. That’s what many Parisians do. There’s no charge for entering the park – except on Sundays when the fountains are turned on around 3 pm. However, we’ll try to catch the last hour for visiting the palace’s staterooms.
In this case, use the parking lot smack in front of the palace. You’ll circle all the way around to the left side of the front of the palace before you see the entrance to the paid parking space. Remember that you have to pay your parking fee at one of the automated machines before leaving the parking lot (there’s no parking attendant).
For those who haven’t visited Versailles in recent years, the ticket sales office has shifted to the annex on the LEFT after you walk through the main gates. Louis XIV’s statue in the main courtyard is currently being restored.
Now here’s the good part for latecomers. Contrary to the adage, ‘the early bird gets the worm’, so does the last minute Annie get some perks. We have arrived at 4:30 pm. Therefore, rather than paying full admission, we need only pay 10 Euros (which includes the use of an audioguide for those who want one). The palace closes at 6:30 pm, so you’ll want to make sure to get in the front door by 5 pm at the very latest to get a full hour’s visit.
There are MANY benefits to arriving so late in the day. Although you will still find an inordinate number of tour groups (even the tour guides have started taking advantage of this reduced admittance rate), your time for waiting in line (if you haven’t already bought a Paris Museum Pass) is reduced by more than half. You can actually wander through the Hall of Mirrors without being squeezed through by the wave of visitors.
June, July and August tend to be the busiest months for Versailles so it’s quite extraordinary to be able to wander through the palace with a minimal amount of jostling. Meanwhile, the Versailles gardens remain open until dusk. In June, that means approximately 8:30 pm (although it will still be very light – and an exceptionally good time to take photos of the Versailles facade from the garden side).
I’d like to say that I planned it all this way – but it really was dumb luck – not planning.
If you’re not in a hurry to get back to Paris, take a walk through the gardens – all the way to the reflection ponds. On your right, you’ll find the cafe where Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni sipped on a cafe when they were still just dating(winter, 2008). You can enjoy a light meal while gazing across the reflecting pond – the same view that must have delighted Louis XIV.
Rather than linger in the gardens until dusk, we have promised to get Diana back to Montmartre for a last night in Paris.
As touristy as it is, Montmartre still lays claim to a great view of Paris. It may not be as breathtaking as the Eiffel Tower, but you also don’t have to pay much to get there (outside of a Metro ticket – or two, if you choose to take the funicular).
As for Place du Tertre, the traditional square where artists continue to sketch any tourist willing to sit for a half hour, its charm remains questionable. “I thought Montmartre would be more hip,” commented Diana. The artists who sketch here are most definitely ‘real’ artists. In fact, I recognize one of them from our visit to Musee d’Orsay earlier in the week. He was chatting with the copyist who had just finished her Sisley copy. But, in truth, Montmartre’s soul has been swallowed up by tacky souvenir shops. It remains a good example for city planners of how not to accommodate tourism.
This is no simple problem. How does a city retain its identity and still welcome a multitude of visitors every year? Perhaps the key is to keeping a firm rein on commercialism and ferociously protect a neighborhood’s integrity. For cities who endorse a free market economy, any kind of restraint on commercialism is also a restraint on free markets. Therein lies the problem – balancing free enterprise with good taste.
Meanwhile, tourists continue to flock to Montmartre as the sun dips in the sky. Some bring along their picnics to eat on the front steps of Sacre Coeur. Some bring their guitars. And the rest of us search for a restaurant.
Here, I have only one word of advice: You must go back down the hill if you have any hope of finding a peaceful place to dine. If you don’t mind the crowds or waiting for a table, Le Plumeau , 4 Place du Calvaire, is one of the more pleasant places on the hill –
and the Diapason can be recommended for gourmet cuisine (if you’ve reserved in advance), but for the spontaneous visit, just work you’re way down the hill (using the back streets) and you will undoubtedly stumble into a quiet bistro – far from the maddening crowd.
I would recommend Les Copains d’Abord , 62 Rue de Caulaincourt, for a hearty servings accompanied by live music.
Here, on our last night in Paris, dare I admit? We arrived at Montmartre somewhat late, quite hungry – and WITHOUT my Plan de Paris. For Montmartre, you must have your Plan de Paris if you’re intent on finding particular restaurant. Sadly, we opted for the first restaurant terrace we discovered once we got away from the Mont.
For this reason, Yinjie, James and Diana deserve a total refund on their six day stay – or an invitation to return to Paris again. Actually, I’m happy to have saved a little bit of Paris for a future visit.
You may have noticed that nowhere in these Six Days in France series have I mentioned the Eiffel Tower. I was wondering when you’d ask. Naturally, I’ve saved the best for last . . . to be continued.