Friday, August 21, 2009

Fairy Magic at Versailles

It's been too hot to take a walking tour this week, my friends, so I thought I'd share with you our recent trip out to Versailles to catch the water and light show. I know that sounds a bit odd when speaking of Versailles, and it is a paltry description of what was really involved. So let me elaborate.

Perhaps I should not assume that all of my fair readers know what Versailles is. It is the H-U-G-E palace built by
Le Roi Soleil, Louis XIV. I'm not going to get into details, but let's just say that standing at the gates of the place makes one feel small- tout petit, to be exact- which was Louis's plan, in fact. He wanted every living soul to FEEL the power and majesty of the king, a fait accompli that still resonates today. That's actually my favorite part of Versailles-- standing in front of the gates and reveling in the feat that was building this place. It always makes me feel very close to history-- I'm humbled the same way the nobility must have been as they approached the palace. It's a unique sensation.

Here's JMH in front of the gates in October (I couldn't find a picture of me).

Perhaps one of the most disappointing things about a visit to Versailles, however, is that the fountains in the gardens are usually not on. It costs quite a lot of money and energy to run them, so the State reserves their loveliness for certain weekends and evenings in the summer. In the past, I never managed to be there during these special times, so this was a major To-Do on my list of "Things to See While Living in Paris." Luckily, Jon and I checked this off said list two weekends ago with a Saturday-night jaunt out to the palace.

Officially, the event is called "Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes," which roughly translates into "The Great Night Waters" or more poetically and in keeping with the sense of the phrase (Madame Cailler would be proud), "The Majestic Evening Fountains." For a few summer weekends each year, the Versailles Gardens (famous in and of themselves) open at 9 pm and reveal themselves transformed into a fairy world of sparkling lights, tinkling water, and lovely music. It is, in a word, magic.

For two and a half hours, we were able to wander amongst the flowers, fountains, lakes, and woods, all illuminated in splendid ways and accompanied by Baroque music piping from speakers cleverly hidden within bushes. Entering just at sunset, we were able to catch the sun sink below the Grand Basin, the big lake lying perpendicular to the palace. From there, we just strolled, enjoying the warm summer air, the laughs of children running through the paths, the lights playing through the streams of water, sipping on champagne obtained from a bar nestled in a little garden nook.

The night culminated in a fantastic fireworks display. Since we missed the Fourth of July and Bastille Day, I was suffering from a lack of acceptable pyrotechnic prowess (anyone who knows the Donovan men and my husband knows how I was raised to really appreciate a good round of exploding fire). Thankfully, the Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes continued to impress even up to the very end.

I'm so glad that the lovely experience of seeing the fountains on and lit up exceeded the expectations I had set for the evening. I think the fairies would definitely approve of the nocturnal goings-on at Versailles. Perhaps they even had a hand in them...


  1. Oh! I wish I could see it. Thanks for sharing. :)

  2. Love the fireworks video, too!! I didn't get my fix on July 4th either. And the music made this display extra nice.

  3. Thanks, Suz!

    Oh, and to all: Sorry about the wonky font size. Having Blogger Technical Difficulties...

  4. Magnifique! I was there once, but the fountains were not on. Alas, it seems you experienced a very different Versailles. Oh well, just means I'll have to return one day!

  5. Your way with words always make the enchanting that much more so...

    Miss you...

  6. Hi Kate! That sounds incredible! I've been catching up on your blog and it seems like you and Jon are having such a great time!! We are heading to Paris next fall to stay with Barry's grandparents...will you guys still be there??


  7. amazing Kate! I wonder how they ran the fountains when the castle was built? were they added later after electricity?

  8. They were crafty folk, those engineers during the 17th century... they used gravity to control the pressure and flow of water-- bowls were set at varying levels and filled with water from the Seine. Louis XIV actually ordered a viaduct to be constructed to help with the water pressure issue, but it was never completed. The remnants can be seen all over the countryside, most notably at the Maintenon Chateau (the home of the king's favorite mistress, and some say, his secret wife!).

    I even learned that during Louis XIV's time, fountain guards were ordered to whistle when the king approached so that the waters could be turned on full force. Cool.

  9. Ah, thanks for bringing back a marvelous memory. It was our fourth trip to Versailles, a Sunday afternoon and we were able to witness (finally!) the fountains in action. They are gorgeous. Come to think of it, it was also on this trip that I finally made it all the way to the top of the Tour. My previous three attempts (err, I mean trips) to Paris resulted in only making the second etage. I was so happy to finally go all the way! (Snicker, snicker, snicker!)