There’s no greater crime than running through a garden that was designed to be strolled in. Although I wasn’t literally running, there was never going to be enough time to see everything in this historic garden.
Part of being a tour is doing things as a group. When we arrived at Versailles, our wonderful tour guide started taking us through the palace. I realized in about five minutes I needed to get outside. The place was packed shoulder to shoulder with people doing the tourist shuffle looking at ornate paintings, beds, chapels, ceilings and all things French royalty are known for.
I felt guilty thinking it looked just like every other villa, castle or palace I’d ever been in. There was a long line of people waiting forever to get into this place, but the garden called.
I slipped away, weaving through the awestruck onlookers as I searched for the exit. Once outside I found the restroom. The French have had visitors here since some time in the 1800’s, but still can’t understand that people will have to use the bathroom while here. Long lines, two urinals, four stalls and a young Asian girl with an embarrassed look on her face stood with us. 20 minutes later of precious garden time was gone.
Once through the main gate I was embraced by the formal beds all enclosed in neatly cropped boxwoods. The tall white flowering tobacco danced in the breeze with cosmos sharing the same color and pretty blue salvias were set off by both. Like every French garden I’d seen so far, the plants were packed together, just like the pour tourists I left behind in the palace.
The scale of Versailles is amazing, visitors need at least a day to explore it, I had about two hours. The size is breathtaking and a little bit intimidating. There’s always a fear of missing something really cool at one of these places.
Allies of 30 foot tall topiary separate 20 or so individual areas and this is where I fall in love with the garden. The sound of classical music emanates from the wooded areas, sometime it’s opera, other times it’s soft strings playing an unknown composition. Exploring these hidden treasures feels so good.
Entering one of these groves always reveals surprises. A young Italian woman can’t help but strike a pose in front of a luminescent gold fountain. The Grove of Apollo’s Bath is simply stunning and dates to the 1600’s and Louis XIV.
The things we are all doing in our gardens, were being done here first. The end of every path has a focal point, the technique of hide and reveal is done to perfection here.
One of the brave choices in the garden is the inclusion of modern art from Anish Kapoor. One of many on display, ‘Sectional Body preparing for Monadic Singularity,’ looks like a giant red speaker in the middle of a field. A long semicircular trail takes you along the edge of the meadow, teasing visitors as they can see the sculpture through various gates. Finally one gravel trail leads out to the work. It was inspiring to see such a contrast to the tradition and ancient art on display here for centuries. I was moved by his piece, enjoyed photographing it and hearing the comments of visitors. The best might have been from a young woman who stood in front of the piece and said, “I don’t understand art.” I guess you either love this kind of work or you don’t.
Walking the in the shadow of giant topiaries with music never far away and encountering a surprise at every turn nurtured my soul. At a brisk pace, I took in everything I could and was smiling all the way. I doubt if I’ll ever see this place again, but what I did see was simply astounding.