Every Francophile worth their salt knows that the most famous of day trip from Paris is to the grandiose Château de Versailles, made famous by the Sun King (i.e. Louis XIV) in the 17th-century. But what many visitors to the Palace don’t know is that there is an offbeat side of the city that’s also worth discovering. Here’s your ultimate guide to the best of hidden gems and secret spots in Versailles you must visit the next time you’re in town.
Many visitors don’t know this, but there are actually a handful of museums in Versailles which are entirely different from the Palace itself. One of the biggest of these is that of Musée Lambinet, which is set against the backdrop of a private mansion and was once home to the Lambinet family
An old ‘hôtel particulier’, a type of mansion that was particularly popular among wealthy Parisians a few centuries ago, the museum was established in 1932 and the ornate rooms recount the history of Versailles town and its surrounds.
Discover Versailles’ bookshops
Despite being a relatively small city, with a population of around 85,000 residents, Versailles has a surprising number of independent bookshops, including several speciality bookstores. Collectively, they truly form a kind of hidden gem of their own; one where you can enjoy a lazy afternoon perusing the collections, sipping on a coffee in one café bookshop, and pick up some fun reads.
Facteur du Cheval
Though technically also a bookshop on account of its second-hand book selection, the Facteur du Cheval deserves a line in of itself for the simple virtue of being such a whimsical place to explore. Part antique store and part bookstore, the brocante-like nature of the independent shop means that you could easily spend hours digging for cool finds in this treasure trove of a location.
What’s more is that, while the shop doesn’t appear as such from the roadside, the store is actually a kind of Narnia of sorts and comprises of room after room of decades old porcelain pieces, decadent furniture, outdoor ornaments, and more… This is all goes to say that you simply must take a peek (or a long hard look) for yourself!
Hameau de la Reine
Away from the crowds of Versailles. Away from the Palace. And away from the town of Versailles, you’ll find a little village with all the charm of a rustic farm. This is Hameau de la Reine (the Queen’s Hamlet), and the place where Marie Antoinette escaped to ‘play dress up’ when she got bored of palace life…
Though technically part of the Versailles Palace estate (and therefore requiring an entry ticket to visit and explore), the Hameau de la Reine is hands down the best place to visit in the Versailles Estate and is, unfortunately, often missed by visitors due to its location far away from the rest of the things to see and do at Versailles. Home to a series of reconstructed rustic houses and pools, it’s quiet and tranquil place where it’s easy to forget the hustle and bustle of daily life.
Salle du Jeu de Paume
If you wondered what Versailles and the origins of tennis have in common, then the answer is “a lot”. It wasn’t until Henry VIII and his courtesans came along that rackets were brought into the Jeu de Paume game and tennis as we know it was officially born.
Tennis courts were built far and wide- many of which can still be found today (including at Hampton Court Palace– the official residence of Henry VIII). Tennis became known as the sport of the nobility and ‘Jeu de Paume‘ courts were set up all over France.
The room is also the site of the ‘Tennis Court Oath,’ thus meaning that this is the building where many rich French nobles congregated to vow to collaborate and work with one another no matter what- even in spite of the high tension within society prior to the French revolution. Today the room is open to the public and is free to visit.
Les Fermes de Gally
If you’re looking to go French fruit picking as a day trip from Paris, then you’ve come to the right place. Les Fermes de Gally is located a short way out of town and is a large pick your own fruit, vegetable, and produce farm. It’s the perfect place to head to on a crisp Autumn day where you can scout out the last of the strawberries or grab a gourd in time for some pumpkin stew!
You may well not know this, but in the very heart of the town, the second largest market in France is held throughout the week. Situated in the Carrés Notre Dame, vendors of the traditional market sell everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to honey to speciality French cheeses.
La Cour des Senteurs
Situated in the heart of the Quartier Saint-Louis, a district of the city best-explored on foot and which is filled with hidden gems and historic quirks, La Cour des Senteurs comprises of several different locations.
As well as a walled garden (complete with a sweet scented herb and floral garden- as you might expect from a place with such a name), the complex also boasts a House of Perfumes which tells the history of perfume and houses several interactive exhibits. Of all the secret spots in Versailles, this is easily my favourite.
Versailles Cathedral (La Cathédrale Saint-Louis)
Gorgeous, imposing, and constructed during the middle of the 18th-century in the Baroque style, Versailles Cathedral is free to visit and can also be found within the Quartier Saint-Louis district of the city. Rather interestingly, the Cathedral wasn’t actually consecrated until almost a century later, in 1843.