Versailles, just to the south of Paris, is the site of Louis XIV’s gargantuan folly. From 1661 onwards the Sun King began to convert the small hunting lodge in the southwest of Paris into an enormous residence, which other royal houses of Europe then tried to imitate. The planning of the project was entrusted to the best master builders of the nation, the architect Louis Le Vau, the painter Charles Le Brun and the landscape gardener André Le Nôtre.
In the famous Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors), a 70-meter-long hall, long rows of mirrors reflect the light from high windows which open onto a wide panorama across rolling lawns and coppices. The Great Appartments, the Gallery of Battles and a large section of the painting gallery are open to the public, without the obligation of a guided tour.
The wide-ranging park of Versailles is divided into two by the Grand Canal and is one of the most perfect examples of a garden à la française: the lawn areas are broken up up by carefully placed groves and clearings; flowerbeds, fish ponds, fountains and stautes
In the park there are also some other buildings which merit a visit: Louis XIV built the Grand Trianon as a summer house whereas the Petit Trianon, a villa for Madame de Pompadour, and the Hameau, an artificial hamlet for Marie- Antoinette were not created until the 18th century.
The medieval town of Chartres is one of the most rewarding day trips (by rail about one hour from Montparnasse station). The entire old town district is classified as a historic monument and the attractive pedestrian zone is a wonderful place to stroll or window-shop.
The high spires of the Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame tower over the small town and for centuries were a guidepost for pilgrims. The exquisite stained glass windows are among the most important art treasures of theworld. A museum documents this art of glass-making, in particular the production and preservation of the famous Chartres blue. One of the many admirable details in the cathedral is the maze which is laid out in the stone pavement. Some sections of the crypt date from the 9th century. The main façade, the Portail Royal (royal portal) was created with great skill – a storybook of Christianity carved in stone. This west façade is the only part of the original church which has endured, the rest was destoroyed in a fire. Between 1164 and 1260 the present-day cathedral was rebuilt on the remains of the older church.
South of Paris (about one hour by train from the Gare de Lyon; seven kilometers from the small town Melun) is the palace Vaux-le-Vicomte $. Planned in the 17th century as the first construction of the Grand Siècle, by the successful team, Le Vau, Le Brun and Le Nôtre, it became the model for Versailles. The builder was Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s steward. The furniture and kitchen equipment in the palace are especially interesting. The stables house a large collection of old carriages. Le Nôtre set new standards when he designed the park: the symmetry of the French garden reflected the ground plan of the palace. A visit to Vaux-le- Comte has a special note on Saturday evenings from June to September – when candles light the way.
Château de Fontainebleau
About 60 kilometers to the south, an easy train journey from the Gare de Lyon, is Fontainebleau. This area of forest covers more than 20,000 hectares and has rich stands of oak, beech, birch and pine trees – a paradise for collecting mushrooms, animal-watching and even climbing – there are some bizarre rock towers.
The train stops in the middle of the forest and a bus takes you to the Château de Fontainebleau. As early as the 12th century French kings rode into the castle courtyard to lodge after wild boar hunts. The sprawling palace was largely constructed during the Renaissance period. Every ruler since the Capetians tried to leave his mark on the royal summer palace, by means of conversion and renovation. The achievements of François I are particularly noteworthy. He was responsible for the long ballroom, striking for its airy feel and the gallery, where light streams in. Napoleon I also left his stamp by constructing a majestic throne room, known as the Cour des Adieux. It was here, namely, that he signed his declaration of abdication before leaving for exile on St. Helena.
Some 32 kilometers east of Paris near Marne-la-Vallée there is a piece of America in France. In xDisneyland Paris & visitors stroll along Main Street, USA and see on the horizon the Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant (Castle of the Sleeping Beauty). On “America’s Main Street” there is always plenty of hustle and bustle. In summer horses pull trams through the crowds of people, oldtimer automobiles with passengers who could have been alive 100 years ago, chug past. The large parades also take place here, when the entire world of Disney comic figures comes close enough to touch.
Turning away from the “historic” main street to the Central Plaza, to the right, you come to one of the main attractions of the park, the roller coaster Space Mountain. The “astronauts” shoot up to the roof in a breathtaking 1.8 seconds and then in the total darkness of space begin their sensational high speed journey de la terre à la lune, from the earth to the moon. It is worldwide the first roller coaster in the dark with three corkscrew loops.
Space Mountain is the heart of Discoveryland and is dedicated to the technical achievements of mankind in the 20th century. In the space carousel Orbitron you can steer your own space capsule and the 360°movie theater Le Visionarium provides an adventurous journey through time, which you can experience as a virtual journey in the Starspeeder of Startours.
You can continue your visit with the Disneyland Paris Railroad or on foot to Fantasyland, the world of Disney fairytale characters. This section is especially suitable for smaller children as it has a large number of merry-go-rounds based around adaptions of well-known fairly-tales.
Continuing in an anti-clockwise direction you then come to Adventureland. This is where characters such as Indiana Jones come into their own. You can follow their trails to the Temple du Péril; again this takes place in the form of a breathtaking roller-coaster ride. You can also take a boat ride to seek out the Pirates of the Caribbean.
Frontierland is the realm of the Wild West and gold fever. At Thundermesa Riverboat Landing the paddle steamers, which remind one of Mark Twain’s novels leave for trips on the waterways around Big Thunder Mountain. Or you can try a wild ride on the driverless gold mine train around the mountain in the lake. Before entering the creepy haunted house Phantom Manor it is a good idea to leave smaller children at the childrens’ zoo, Critter Corral.
At nighttime the theme park is transformed into an entertainment complex, when in the bars and discos of Disney Village the party starts.
Saint-Denis is an industrial suburb north of Paris. It lies at the end of Métro line 13. It is famous mostly for its basilica, which in medieval times was one of the wealthiest abbeys in France, and which now rises as an unmistakable landmark over its modern surroundings. The Basilique Saint-Denis was founded in the 7th century, and in the Middle Ages under Abbot Suger (1081 – 1151) was extended into a monumental church, a pattern for all Gothic cathedrals of the country. The rose window in the façade was the first of its kind.
Saint-Denis was for a long period the burial place of the kings of France; the sculptures from Gothic and Renaissance times are some of the most beautiful works of art of these periods. They were badly damaged during the French Revolution and were restored by Violletle- Duc in the 19th century – albeit in a rather idealized style.
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