Versailles was always at the top of my list on things to see in France, but as soon as I heard of the existence of “The Queen’s Hamlet” I was like “I will not rest until I see this ridiculous place.” Of course, the royals being royals, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette decided that Versailles and the massive gardens were not enough for, so they had their respective miniature palaces about a mile away from the main palace, but still on the grounds of Versailles. Apparently, they would escape the pressures of court life down the road to their Grand Trianon (for King Louis) and Petit Trianon (Marie Antoinette).
Visiting Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon was my favorite part of Versailles. While the entire palace and immediate gardens were being mauled by tourists, Marie’s estate was unexpectedly quiet. If you did not know this was her house, you would never guess it belonged to the incredibly wealthy Queen of France.
Marie Antoinette was famously known to have amazing style, and her Petit Trianon reflects her love for simpler tastes. As I said to my friend Emily, “Marie Antoinette invented ‘rustic chic’ way before Pinterest came around.” Even more enjoyable were her vast gardens and grounds, where we could walk through her gardens and not see any other tourists for a few solid minutes. Unimaginable at Versailles! On such a beautiful fall day, with the sun shining, this was such a serene moment. I felt like we could have really been out on the French countryside.
After walking for a few minutes, we reached the crown jewel of ridiculousness in its entire grand splendor. Did we just stumble upon Disneyland? I felt like I had just walked on set for the live remake of Beauty and the Beast.
The Queen’s Hamlet was built by her favorite architect in 1738 as a retreat for Marie Antoinette and her friends to frolic and briefly escape their royal reality. The Hamlet was able to give Marie a sense that her Petit Trianon was in the deep countryside rather than on the grounds of Versailles. It contains a farm, a mill, and even a lighthouse. Marie, her fiends, and sometimes her children, would dress up as milkmaids and pretend to be French farmers. They were even known to hire poor people off the streets and have the dress as farmers for the day to help add to their illusion. At the end of the day they would return to their palaces and eat their feasts and sleep in their warm beds.
Marie Antoinette was famously very taken with the idea of the quaint country life of France. The problem became that she liked the idea of it, but had little conception of the real country life of French peasants. While Marie idealized the rustic life, the reality was that the farmers and villagers all across France were not living on such well manicured farms, but were instead literally starving to death. Life in the countryside was extremely challenging, and her fake farm seemed like a mockery to the real farmers and peasants across the country. Marie Antoinette was hated for many reasons, and when the stories of her fake farm spread through the countryside it certainly did not help her case. Visiting the Hamlet, and seeing these fake houses in person, I have to agree that it seems wrong. The whole miniature farm is overall just very strange.
Visiting Marie’s Petit Trianon and the Hamlet were my favorite parts of Versailles. It’s not only fascinating, but it’s off the beaten path, so you have an opportunity to escape the tourists.