Saturday, May 10, 2014

How I Came to Love Versailles: 10 tips on how you can love it too by Sandra Gulland (includes giveaway)

Today we are very pleased to welcome Sandra Gulland here to tell us about visiting Versailles. Made me remember my own visit to the splendid palace many years ago. One day I will visit again. One day.


When I began to write about the Court of the Sun King, I had to research Versailles, of course. I began with a shelf-full of books, but I resisted actually going there for some time. I feared that it would be overwhelming—and it was!

Here's how I came to love it:

1) Read books about Versailles, both fiction and non-fiction, before you go.

2) Take a car from the Paris airport directly to Versailles and spend the night there. Or two. Or three! (We enjoyed staying at the Trianon Palace, a short walk from Versailles.)

3) Visit Versailles in short stages. (When you are staying in the village, this is easier: you can tour, nap, eat, tour, nap, eat.)

4) It's best to visit Versailles early on week-day mornings, before the hoards arrive. (More than three million tourists visit Versailles every year.)

5) Plan to take only a few personal photos; there will often be people standing in the way of a good historical shot—and the official photos on postcards and in the guidebooks are excellent.

6) Sign up for an official tour (or two), especially for a first visit: these guides get you past the lines, had have lots of great information. I recommend Guidatours.

7) Get lost in the gardens. Dream of the events that were held there. 

8) Make sure you visit the bookstore, and have room in your luggage for all the books you will buy.

9) Ditto for gifts!

10) Go back to Versailles many times. Like the Louvre, one visit, or even two or three, will never be enough.

The Versailles of the period of my novels MISTRESS OF THE SUN and, newly out, THE SHADOW QUEEN, spanned the early days, when it was just a hunt lodge, to the beginnings of construction of the massive chateau that we know today.

I was most interested in imagining what Versailles might have been like under construction, as shown in this painting by Adam Frans van der Meulen: 

I walked from the chateau to the village, and then to where Clagny had been at one time, the chateau the Sun King built for Athénaïs, Madame de Montespan, his second official mistress.

It is no longer there, alas, but walking to where it had once stood gave me a sense of the distances, the views.

Everywhere I walked, my characters had walked before me.

Versailles is a place rich in history, layers upon layers of it. Enjoy it step by step, bit by tasty bit.


Trianon Palace

About the Tour

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About the Book

From the author of the beloved Josephine B. Trilogy, comes a spellbinding novel inspired by the true story of a young woman who rises from poverty to become confidante to the most powerful, provocative and dangerous woman in the 17th century French court: the mistress of the charismatic Sun King.

1660, Paris

Claudette’s life is like an ever-revolving stage set. From an impoverished childhood wandering the French countryside with her family’s acting troupe, Claudette finally witnesses her mother's astonishing rise to stardom in Parisian theaters. Working with playwrights Corneille, Molière and Racine, Claudette’s life is culturally rich, but like all in the theatrical world at the time, she's socially scorned.

A series of chance encounters gradually pull Claudette into the alluring orbit of Athénaïs de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV and reigning "Shadow Queen." Needing someone to safeguard her secrets, Athénaïs offers to hire Claudette as her personal attendant.

Enticed by the promise of riches and respectability, Claudette leaves the world of the theater only to find that court is very much like a stage, with outward shows of loyalty masking more devious intentions. This parallel is not lost on Athénaïs, who fears political enemies are plotting her ruin as young courtesans angle to take the coveted spot in the king's bed.

Indeed, Claudette's "reputable" new position is marked by spying, illicit trysts and titanic power struggles. As Athénaïs, becomes ever more desperate to hold onto the King's favor, innocent love charms move into the realm of deadly Black Magic, and Claudette is forced to consider a move that will put her own life—and the family she loves so dearly—at risk.

Set against the gilded opulence of a newly-constructed Versailles and the War of Theaters, THE SHADOW QUEEN is a seductive, gripping novel about the lure of wealth, the illusion of power, and the increasingly uneasy relationship between two strong-willed women whose actions could shape the future of France.

Giveaway details:

- to participate, leave a comment telling us what you would like to see if you were lucky enough to be able to visit Versailles or, if you have already been, a handy tip!  Don't forget to include your email address in your comment.
- there is one hardcover copy of the book to be given away
- open to US/Canada only
- closes 18th May midnight GMT 


  1. I think I would just want to stand back and marvel at the grandeur; and I'd love to see the gardens.

  2. I would love to see all of the gold that was used...and all of the gorgeous fountains! kimbers10[at]yahoo[dot]com

  3. I loved seeing the second painting of Napoleon crowning himself; the other one is at the Louvre!

  4. The beauty of the setting which is memorable and the magnificence of the buildings. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  5. thanks for posting this awesome post! I did go there years ago, and even used my bicycle in a part of the gardens, not sure if this is still allowed today though!! Emma