Accessibility Features of Versailles: Versailles –a name we know as an ultimate place of luxury and opulence. Also known as the place the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end the First World War. It is the largest castle in Europe! The estate is 2,000 acres in all. It served as the royal palace for just over 100 years – from Louis XIV, the Sun King who ruled for 72 years, until Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette – we all know what became of them!
Versailles started life as a hunting lodge for the nobility. King Louis XIV enjoyed his time as a child at Versailles and so, when he became king, he transferred governance and the court out to Versailles – because he enjoyed the area and also to get away from the big city of Paris. The palace was large enough to house his court and noble families as well as his own entourage. King Louis XIV was the Sun King and aligned himself to Apollo – the Sun God. The palace and his bedroom were aligned so that the rising sun shone on his kingdom and himself each morning.
Versailles is well known to be a difficult area to access with an abundance of cobblestones. This is what we expected during our recent day trip from Paris – but we were surprised! We reached Versailles by train. The train station was modernized and accessible. Tourist information stated a 15 minute walk from the train station to Versailles. This might be so! But there is no cobblestone until you reach the beautiful gold-leafed (100,000 pieces of gold leaf) gates of Versailles. There is then another 5 minutes over harrowing cobblestone with large gaps between them to reach the entrance gates. We were there at the beginning of the low season so there were not too many crowds. We had pre-purchased our ticket, which is recommended to avoid line ups.
However, with pre-planning, persons with a disability are able to avoid the most difficult part of the approach to the Castle, by driving up past the parking lot to the entrance. Some accessibility features of Versailles are detailed here. At the entrance, there are displays indicating the layout of the castle and the grounds, with distances between different points. This is brailed and is raised for tactile orientation. Once inside, there are elevators to the different levels. The public is only able to access two floors of the palace. There are accessible washrooms and chair lifts on various stairways. The main viewing areas are accessible. I stopped to have some lunch and ate in a small room in the palace! First and last time I dine in a castle I think!
The castle’s public rooms are filled with opulent tapestries and silk brocades, famous paintings, paintings of various kings, queens and nobility, and wonderful architecture. There are huge fireplaces in most rooms with carved marble or masonry emblems, painted ceilings, and statues, mainly of Louis XIV! And of course, the Hall of Mirrors, where the newly discovered process of mirroring was used to grand effect, reflecting the beautiful gardens just outside, as seen through the wonderful, large windows opposite the mirrored wall. The paintings on the ceiling depict different occasions during King Louis XIV’s life.
The gardens are as amazing as everyone reports. There are acres of them – and those are just the near gardens that are spectacular. There are mazes of gardens beyond the ones typically photographed. The main area, visible from the castle, has fountains and wide, winding steps and ramps down many levels until a canal and lake are reached – an approximate 30 minute walk. The walkways are compacted crushed stone. Most of this area is accessible; although the degree of slope makes the return trip up to the castle challenging for everyone. For those overwhelmed by the distances, there are golf carts which are rented at 30 Euros per hour. The outer area – another 15 minutes walk- is where Marie Antoinette had a typical peasant village built so she could spend her days pretending to be an ordinary farm hand. There are fountains, statues, and small palaces scattered throughout the extensive estate.
Versailles is surely a not-to-be missed experience on a trip to the region of Paris, France! Visit our blog on Accessible Paris