Last year I promised myself that I’d escape to the lush French countryside at the first sign of Spring. When that day finally came I was off biking from Vernon to Giverny for a visit to Monet’s inspired gardens. This year typical Paris weather and final deadlines for my masters kept me cooped up in my studio a few too many weekends. At last, the perfect moment came this last weekend and I opted to spend a day at my favorite destination just outside Paris: Le Domaine de Marie Antoinette at Versailles.
In true Parisian style, I packed a picnic for the day: fresh baguette, camembert and slices of grison, a salty dried beef from Switzerland which has become my favorite go-to charcuterie since I don’t eat pork. Once I arrived at the château I rented a bike from the gardens and with my picnic blanket in tow, set off to find a secluded patch of shaded grass for an afternoon away from it all.
Far beyond the formal gardens of Versailles, Marie Antionette’s Estate is nothing short of a luxurious countryside getaway, and consists of three sections: the Petit Trianon and her private theater, the hamlets which resemble a quaint idealist village, and the farm which Marie Antoinette filled with happy chickens and royal cows. The Petit Trianon was built under the reign of Louis XV, the queen’s father-in-law, to keep his infamous mistress Madame de Pompadour contented and close. It was then gifted to Marie Antoinette who used it as an escape from the rigorous, over-burdening court life of Versailles.
Today the hamlet adds to the charm of Marie Antoinette, although that wasn’t always the case. Used solely as a luxurious retreat for games and relaxation, the Queen would dress as a shepherdess and reenact the idealized life of a peasant-girl shielded from hardship by the gilded gates of Versailles. Meanwhile the French were struggling against poverty and starvation (a law was passed at this time that regulated the amount of sawdust that could be used in baguettes, a technique of desperation that helped the flour go further). I don’t consider Marie Antoinette to have been malicious however ill-concieved the hamlets may be, rather she really struggled with the demands of life at Versailles that were far more rigid than her upbringing in Austria. Marie Antoinette was born at time when it wasn’t uncommon for an Austrian princess to befriend the peasant children whose parents worked on the castle grounds. And I think today many of us can appreciate the romanticized ideals of a quiet life in the countryside that even Marie Antoinette must of have felt to a degree.
I love that the farm at Marie Antoinette’s Estate is fully functional with cows and sheep lazing about. There is even a vineyard which produces roughly 2000 bottles of Marie Antoinette wine. Beyond the vines, chickens lay their golden eggs in a shaded garden while peacocks and ducks escape the sun under small trees. Even 300 years ago, the farm provided all the culinary needs to keep the hamlet a bustling, little village: Sustainability at its finest!
By the time I started heading back, I was exhausted. But it was the sort of exhaustion that comes only after a fun day in the sun.
For more photos of Le Domaine de Marie Antoinette, check out ArtfullyAdored on Flickr.
What are your favorite summer retreats?