A portrait of Marie Antoinette by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun hangs in the Petit Trianon.
Last week the girls and I cuddled up to watch Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. I love this film—all that pink and powdered blue, all that sumptuous silk and those decadent pastries—it really speaks to my inner girl. And being teens, my girls loved it, too. Suddenly it seemed I had found the perfect way to squeeze both some Mom time and some culture into them at once. So Sunday we were off to Versailles to visit the queen or, rather, her little piece of the grounds, the Domaine de Marie Antoinette.
The Domaine includes the Petit Trianon, the gardens and the queen’s hamlet. The little Trianon is just that: tiny, the perfect size for a family visit. You see the réchauffoir where meals were heated after having been cooked off-premises to avoid nasty odors, and the mechanical wall lifts Marie had created to increase her closet space, as well as beribboned garden tools. Upstairs the setting is more opulent and includes a replica of her bedroom in silks and tapestries.
The gardens are English style, very wild and overgrown by French standards, and a lovely break from the city. The real escape, however, is the hamlet, a charming replica of a village to which even local families flock on the weekend to see the sheep and other livestock. It is all so picturesque and idyllic that you can’t help but wonder if Walt Disney had visited before setting up his theme parks.
Sheep and other livestock at the hamlet.
The château of Versailles and its grounds are a day trip on their own, so you may have to settle for getting your Marie fix here in Paris. The Musée de Carnavalet, in the 3rd Arrondissement, is a great place to start. The queen once haunted this neighborhood herself, so you’ll be walking in Marie’s footsteps as you visit the museum’s collection of her personal belongings, including a very precious little shoe.
Less cheerful but more intimate are the queen’s rooms at the Conciergerie, where she spent her final days. Here you’ll see her prison room, as well as the prayer area and the courtyard she crossed before being beheaded.
To lighten the mood you can visit Debauve et Gallais, the official purveyors of chocolate to the king, where the pastilles that Marie so adored are still made. Or take a short walk to Ladurée, the sumptuous pastry shop and tea salon that supplied all of those breathtaking cakes for Coppola’s film. Sit down in the terribly feminine chinoiserie tea salon and follow the queen’s orders: “If they have no bread, let them eat cake.”*
* Yes, I know she didn’t really say that; but it’s a line worth repeating!