During our time in Paris, I made sure to book the best tour of Versailles with kids I could find. For our family, that was not a cattle-herded shuffle through the palace and back home – that was a Fat Tire Bike Tour of Versailles. After all, kids and teens are much happier biking the grounds – and who wouldn’t love a Versailles Picnic? After seeing how extensive the grounds were, and how crowded the interior of the actual palace (crazy!), I actually think this may be the best way to visit Versailles, period. And to skip the lines!d
Finding the Paris Fat Tire Bike Tour Office:
Our first adventure was that we had to get a cab. That’s all well and good, go to taxi stand, got one right away. Our driver however, spoke no English. We speak no French. And she spent an uncomfortable amount time time staring at the address we gave her, then checking it again, and again, before pulling out. Scott and I had checked google maps, and the Fat Tire office was a bit south of the Eiffel Tower (check out that amazing visit here), so when she shot past that, and kept going, with no sign of turning, I nudged Scott and passed him my phone with the Google map on it. It took him a few minutes to figure out what was going on, and then to get navigation going on the phone – and then he basically was navigator with hand signals and grunts until we got where we were going.
Our driver was very apologetic and nice about it. I think.
Come to think of it she could have been cursing us and putting a hex on us, but she was smiling.
She also only wanted to charge us 2 euro, but we paid more. It was an adventure.
Getting from Paris to Versailles
So we got to Fat Tire Bike Tours Paris version!! We were introduced to our guide, Nathan, and each of us picked a bike, trying it out just enough to make sure it fit us well and nothing seemed amiss. Things are a little different in Europe when it comes to bike helmets – there is no expectation or legal requirement to wear a helmet. Being from the completely paranoid US, we kind of stumbled over this. In the end, our older daughter knew she had to wear one (brain surgery within the last year and all) but the rest of us skipped it.
Then we set off as a group to the RER train, which is sort of a step beyond metro, but not quite the big trains that leave the area. Nathan herded all 19 of us onto the RER, where the last stop is Versailles, then off where we were greeted out of the train station by a Starbucks and McDonalds. It just seems so wrong.
Food Market Prep for Versailles Picnic
Once on the tour with bikes, our first stop was an open air food market in the town of Versailles, not far from the Palace. I have a love for food market, especially in Europe, so an hour here was really not enough for me. This was SO MUCH FUN and I wish I could have explored there longer. Lunch, for us, wound up consisting of a baguette, cheese, 2 kinds of sausage, a few chicken wings, cherries, a chocolate croissant, and a small bottle of wine for Scott and I.
Pro-Tip: Be sure to have a bag with you that can comfortably carry your lunch while you bike!
(If you like foodie stuff, too, check out This Post on Rialto Food Market in Venice, or This Post about a Food Tour through St. Roch neighborhood of Quebec City, Canada.)
Versailles: Marie & Louis Story Time
The Fat Tire bike tour took us throughout the extended gardens, with stops along the way. Nathan did a great job of telling the story of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. Marie was sent from her home Austria to marry Louis when she was 14 (Katie’s age!), and he was 15. She was met at the border of France by the French nobles, and everything Austrian was taken from her. Everything. She was literally, publicly stripped, and even her servants, who she probably knew her whole life, were sent home. She was given new french servants, new french clothes, everything. Then brought to Louis.
Now, she was prepped on how to greet him, so she entered, was introduced, and did the cheek-kiss thing – and Louis turned beet red. He had likely never been around, or possibly ever seen a single woman. He didn’t have servants, he had other nobles who waited on him. A few hours later, they were married. Then, after what we’re sure was one hum-dinger of a dinner party, the wedding couple was escorted to bed, undressed, covered, and all the guests, filed past the bed and offered congratulations and luck on consummating the marriage. Then the curtains on the bed were pulled… and the nobles stayed in the room to listen. I… Just… Have… No… Words.
And nothing happened that night. All of France started to whisper. As the months and years passed, and she didn’t conceive a child, France started to hate Marie Antoinette. Because her one job was to conceive a son. Their marriage was part of a much desired peace treaty between France and Austria, and the true consummation of the Treaty came when she had a son. And she wasn’t doing her job. So she was hated.
Touring Marie Antoinettes Creepy Village: The Queen’s Hamlet
One of the really interesting things was Marie Antoinette’s village. It’s a little idyllic peasant village on the grounds of Versailles. Sort of Disney does Peasant Village 1800s version. It’s beautiful, and picturesque, and… odd. Why?? She built this odd, sad, creepy little village as her escape. She would go there with the servants and play at being a peasant. But a weird peasant who liked to comb the goats, put perfume on them, and milk them into large gold bowls. Some think she might have become a bit unstable with the pressure of the hatred of an entire country on her. Really, I’m not sure I blame her if she did.
In retrospect, scholars now think that Louis XVI may have had either autism or Asperger’s, and it wasn’t for lack of her trying to entice him, but he was honestly more interested in his lock-disassembling hobby. Oh, and one more thing. Marie’s brother came to visit at one point, the soon to be king of Austria (or maybe he already was king, I can’t remember). He and Louis apparently took a walk and discussed the problem of no male child. Whereupon it was realized that Louis had become king at age 5, so when he was getting older, no one had thought to explain the birds and the bees to him. So two of the most powerful men in Europe took a little stroll, and it was all explained. Marie soon had their first child, followed by 3 more. An important talk there.
What a wacky story. It makes you almost feel bad for them. They were literally never without an entourage. When Louis woke up in the morning, his nobles would be there to greet him, and applaud his waking. When Louis and Marie had breakfast, they would sit at a table for just them (and the kids when they came along), and the nobles would sit around the room in seats and watch them eat. It’s quite bizarre. To say they were insulated and out of touch is an understatement. Louis didn’t even know about the storming of the Bastille for three months, because no one told him.
We thoroughly enjoyed our bike around the grounds. Nathan shared many stories of the drama and history that unfolded at Versailles. It was plenty interesting to hold the attention of a couple of teen girls, and there was plenty of biking around the help them run off that endless energy kids have.
We all handed food back and forth, and Nathan was even prepared with a corkscrew so that everyone could have their small bottles of wine during the meal. And, he came around and took a photo for anyone interested. 🙂
Skip The Lines Versailles Tour
Part of the Fat Tire Bike Tour of Versailles includes a skip the lines ticket to enter the palace itself. It was crowded. It was CRAZY crowded. Even with the short run through we did – it was unpleasant, and there were times people were packed body to body to get through a specific room. And really, if you’ve seen one over-the-top mural-ed and gilded palace, you’ve seen them all. Right? It really did get to the point where I just couldn’t take any more extravagance in.
So within 10 minutes of entering, we looked at each other and gave the universal family eyebrow signal that says ‘get me the heck outta here!’ and we did. We took hands and wound our way through the people as quickly as we could. I grabbed the photos above as we did so, and we were quite relieved to be out of all of that.
Honestly, if we were to do it again, I would only go into Versailles Palace itself if we were going to spring for some type of behind the scenes private tour.
After leaving Versailles, we had our train tickets to return to Paris at any time, so we sought out cold drinks and sat on the curb and rested. Then made our way to the train, where the girls were nearly falling asleep, and were so very happy to be back to our apartment where I sit typing this.
It’s 9:35pm, and it’s still light out. Maybe we should go get some dinner.
If you are interested in this tour Go Here To Check Out The Bike Tour With Fat Tire.
If you want to upgrade to the VIP Tour and get into parts of the Palace not open to the general public (I’d absolutely do this if we were to do it all over again) Go Here To Check Out The VIP Bike Tour.
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