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Excursions From Paris

For a Half Day

Chateau de Versailles: No sooner had Louis XIV set eyes on his finance minister's chateau at Vaux-le-Victomte, than he decided to build one bigger and better. The result is one of the three most visited monuments in France (tel: (01) 3083 7800; fax: (01) 3084 7564; website: www.chateauversailles.fr), easily accessible from central Paris via the RER line C5 to Versailles-Rive Gauche (open May-Sep Tues-Sun 0900-1830; Oct-Apr Tues-Sun 0900-1730). Construction began in 1664 and continued until Louis XIV's death in 1715. Much of the palace can only be visited with a guide, with the notable exception of the 73-metre (240-ft) Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) where the Treaty of Versailles was signed, bringing World War I to an end. It is worth queuing for a guided tour, if only to recapture the ritualistic atmosphere of the reign of the Sun King, whose actions were considered as miraculous as the movements of the sun itself. Banal rituals were observed with awe by the honoured elite among the 20,000 courtiers and royal ministers, obliged to relocate to the premises. Guided visits cost FFr45 (FFr35 after 1530) or FFr70 for extended tours.

The chateau is set in the landscaped park designed by Le Nôtre, open daily from dawn until dusk and free. The grounds are so large, that a little train chugs from the palace to the former royal love nests: the Grand and Petit Trianons (open summer 1200-1830 Tues-Sun; winter 1200-1730 Tues-Sun). The Italianate Grand Trianon was built in 1687 for Louis XIV to enjoy the company of Madame de Maintenon. Napoléon also had a penchant for this building, on a somewhat more human scale than the chateau, and stayed there with Marie-Louise. Louis XV had Gabriel build the Petit Trianon in the 1760s for his mistress Madame de Pompadour. Admission is FFr30 (FFr15 after 1530) to the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon combined.

For a Whole Day

Giverny: Monet lived in countrified Giverny, 80km (50 miles) northwest of Paris, from 1883 until his death in 1926. The house, in which he painted his last, vast water lily canvas, is open to the public as Musée Claude Monet, 84 rue Claude Monet (tel: (02) 3251 2821; fax: (02) 3251 5418). Although the house retains much of its charm, the artist's studio is now a large and over-commercialised gift shop - Monet is, after all, big business. Although many of the original paintings are now at the Musée d'Orsay, the inspiration behind them remains here: the famed water lily pond and Japanese footbridges. The museum is open Apr-Oct Tues-Sun 1000-1800 and admission is FFr35 for the house and garden, FFr25 for the gardens only.

A few minutes away, the Musée d'Art Américain, 99 rue Claude Monet (tel: (02) 3251 9465; fax: (02) 3251 9467; website: www.giverny.org), is a shrine to Monet-influenced artists, such as Winslow Homer and Mary Cassatt. It is open Apr-Oct Tues-Sun 1000-1800 and costs FFr35.

To reach both attractions from Paris, motorists need to take the A13 to Bonnières and then the D201 to Giverny. Trains from Paris depart from Gare St-Lazare and arrive in Vernon, from where a taxi or bus is required to reach Giverny.

 

 
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