The Haunted Garden – Versailles France

The Haunted Garden Versailles

Let me say from the start, I do believe in Ghosts!

Very often in the winter I go to Paris. Preferring her chilly, gray and quiet days to the more exuberant times of year. No sooner settled and I hop aboard the RER train that goes nonstop to Versailles. I have been on many tours and poked my head into palatial rooms, wandered through mirrored halls of luxury all the while trying to tune out the others who come to see this gilded beehive. Many feel uncomfortable by what they find, others drool on chubby cherubs who once witnessed the crème brulee of 18th century society. The contradiction of this place is what amuses and challenges me – like having too much dessert after a delicious old school French meal. It is not the grandeur I seek but the homey other part of Versailles, the back yard of it you might say, which always quickens my heart.

The Other Part of Versailles

The Other Part of Versailles

“Madame, I believe you like flowers…” Louis XVI is believed to have said to Marie-Antoinette one day, after the birth of the dauphin. ” I have a bouquet for you, it is called the “Petite Trianon”. It was not secret that the Queen was very discontented with the rigidity of daily court life. Rituals laid down in the long reign of Louis XIV. The young Queen often looked back with regret at the simple family life she had as a child at Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, yearning for a degree of freedom which was impossible! At the time the Petite Trianon was nothing more than a garden pavilion. It was to become a private retreat for the Queen. Here she spent days and nights with a select few. From time to time the King would visit, but never stay. Their marriage being more of a formality than a love match. There were no formalities and no stiffness; fun and games and luxury were the rule. Tennis, amateur dramatics, art ,music and gardening – perhaps a romantic flirtation, were the daily events. Ten years after getting the Trianon, Marie-Antionette developed a desire for a small village called a hameau. Jean-Jacques Rousseau the philosopher was the man of the moment. Creating a vogue for nature and the pleasures of rustic farm life were all the rage of Paris. Artists were busy painting pictures attributing sentiments to people who lived at one with the land. Marie-Antionette was enchanted.

Rustic Farm Life Paris

The design of “Le Hameau” was made by architect Mique, who collaborated with the painter Hubert. They conceived  a free form lake with water piped in from miles away. An alpine village took the form of a semi circle around the “Maison de la Reine”. A tower, a dairy and a pastoral ruin were all thatched and faux painted and plastered. Worm eaten timber and whitewashed cracked moss covered walls were made to look as if they had existed on the spot for centuries; all very theatrical. Soon a wild English style garden was begun. The interiors however were more chic than shabby. The best craftsmen and furniture makers Reisner and Jacob were commissioned to design suites of furniture worthy of the Queen. Walls and windows were covered in specially woven toile du jouy. Special Sevres porcelain was made and even costumes were designed for the visitors. Of course all of this rustic splendor was looked after by an army of servants and a farmer and his wife were imported to tend the royal flocks. The Queen herself was busy too, wearing the notorious white muslin frocks celebrated at the time as “les chemise de la reine.” A fashion that created an uproar with the Lyon silk and ribbon manufacturers, because in matters of dress the Queen set la mode…she even posed for a painting by Madame Vigee-Lebrun. Creating such criticism that another was painted with her in satins and lace and ribbons which momentarily quieted the situation. Though she had the pose of a country maid we know that daily her coiffure was created by monsieur Leonard and took about 3 hours. She was fond of milking special Swiss brown and white cows daily using priceless porcelain jugs to catch the warm milk. She fed the chickens grain milled on the farm, and was often seen leading her flock of sheep around the park with silken blue ribbons. Her love of flowers meant that at every possible place, there was an army of blue and white faience pots filled to bursting no matter the season. Archives survive with order reveal for thousands of narcissus, jasmine and roses, 400 cherry trees, 200 of each plum and apricot trees, and all types of climbing vines including Virginia Creeper imported all the way from the USA. Fish and fowl were placed into the lake. While Marie-Antionette was shutting herself away in this dreamlike fairy land, the people of France were becoming less and less enamored with the status quo. I am sure you know this is one fairy tale that does not end well for its beautiful princess…

Le Hameau Versailles Paris

Maison de la Reine

Nowadays the park is overrun most of the year with crowds of people who come to see the gilded remnants of the last great era of genius and manners. For me, as I trample upon a wet grassy walkway under a wintery sky I am seeking more than remains, rather, what I know still exists. Amid the I phone selfie taking peeps who crowd the lanes and pose like Marie A on Facebook, I linger in the back wandering down the quieter white gravel lanes. Perhaps today, I might catch a chance glimpse of a lady all in white with a bodice of pale pink ribbons fluttering in the chilly breeze carrying a basket filled with eggs towards the “Maison de la Reine”. A light foot step that scarcely touches the ground, a pale pink rose placed in her decolletage, or a faint smile of pleasure upon her lips. Perhaps the queen herself still wanders about her farm making sure that all is ready for the day. All the way back to Paris my mind is reeling. I don’t remove the pale white dust from my shoes that comes from gravel at the Hameau. Leaving it till it fades away like the lady herself into a day dream world. A faint trace of the beauty that can only be glimpsed through the looking glass of memory….

Marie-Antionette

All photos are copyright by M. Sebastian Araujo of Gentlemanly Pursuits.

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Written by: Gentlemanly Pursuits
Sebastian Araujo is a decadent sort of chap who lives with one foot in the past and the other in a dream of the past. A penchant for silk cravats and omelets in gay olde Paree. Living in Hemlock House, a hand built log house set into a deep forest in the lush countryside of Northern Vermont after escaping from the rat race of NYC, he spends his days dreaming of beauty and magic while waiting for the corn to grow and the fairies to whisper as they flutter around the flowerbeds. He seldom follows the weekly news.
Written by: Gentlemanly Pursuits on EmailWritten by: Gentlemanly Pursuits on Facebook

About Written by: Gentlemanly Pursuits

Sebastian Araujo is a decadent sort of chap who lives with one foot in the past and the other in a dream of the past. A penchant for silk cravats and omelets in gay olde Paree. Living in Hemlock House, a hand built log house set into a deep forest in the lush countryside of Northern Vermont after escaping from the rat race of NYC, he spends his days dreaming of beauty and magic while waiting for the corn to grow and the fairies to whisper as they flutter around the flowerbeds. He seldom follows the weekly news.

65 thoughts on “The Haunted Garden – Versailles France

  1. Always love anything this guy writes.He writes about life,art and travel and it makes one envious and also gets one online booking a trip or shopping.

  2. Beautifully written, beautifully photographed, and beautifully presented…

    Sebastian, thank you for sharing your beautiful mind with us…

  3. So interesting! I’ve never traveled to Paris but am now quite intrigued with this little garden of Marie Antoinette. Would love to stroll those paths one day myself. Thanks for taking me there already!

  4. Bravo Seb , Ton article est fabuleux … Nous sommes vraiment très impressionnés !!!! Si une place d’ambassadeur de France aux USA se libère , postule mon ami !! Tu aura toutes tes chances .. Merci pour ton amour pour notre pays . Notre rêve à nous est de venir vivre dans ton fabuleux pays ..On va échanger … Ok ???

  5. “A light foot step that scarcely touches the ground, a pale pink rose placed in her decolletage, or a faint smile of pleasure upon her lips.” Such evocative prose and images! You’re a master, Sebastian!

  6. Wow.I am really interested in gardening and haunted places.
    This dude knows his game. I am wondering what else he writes
    very cool. Ill be keeping an eye out for more.

  7. Même en tant que sport de touriste Versailles ne manque jamais de impress.Always thught il pourrait être hanted , maintenant, je suis sûr . Merci d’avoir apprécié ce monument français.

  8. It is said that M A was, at heart, kind and good. A young Austrian girl, albeit a ‘princess’, sacrificed by her mother to a French king with no romance involved. But when she bore his children, she nursed them herself which was unheard of in her day. The ‘let them eat cake’ quote, evidently apocryphal.
    So it is nice to think of her enjoying happy hours amongst her flowers and her chickens….

    Fabulously done, Sebastian!

  9. This makes me want to travel to Paris and visit this haunted beauty! Very informative, if not poetic, I love the history lesson along with such lovely photos. Thanks so much for sharing, Seb!!

  10. It is fascinating how what once was is still alive in those that appreciate….your article really took me on a stroll through the gardens capturing it’s subtlety and beauty…loved it!…France has the riches history of so many obscure things that are wonderful and scary…I often read excerpts from the Petit Albert just to brush up…

  11. Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful segment of your trip to Versailles. Beautifully written in every detail! You paint such a lovely picture right down to the dust on your shoes. Your words and photos are haunting, Thanks for taking me away!

  12. I love the Queen’s Hamlet an amazing spot to sit and wonder about the woman that spent time here. Truly stunning in its simplicity, contrasting the grandiose pomp of Versailles. Perhaps my favorite spot.

  13. What a lovely escape then and now. Beautifully written and a destination now on my list of places to visit and experience, out of season of course under a grey wintery sky.

  14. A fabulous post Sebastian, your words and images are amazing!
    Tres Fabu (our family’s favorite inspired by Eloise faux French phrase since our girls were little)

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