By Hannah Noye
What would you say if I told you that at the Chateau of Versailles in France, you can travel through time? You can live as the nobility of yonder, strolling the most beautiful rooms and grounds of the palace unfettered by the masses of tourists. You can even attend an extravagant ball alongside the rest of high society, all the while garbed in the finest clothes of the 18th century.
All of this is true! Well, ‘travel through time,’ may be an exaggeration, but it will certainly feel like you have. The French Company ‘Chateau de Versailles Spectacles,’ holds events year round, though two of them certainly stand out from the rest.
Les Fêtes Galantes
Are you a Marquis/Marquess? A king or queen? Or maybe a Duke/Duchess? Or the reigning ‘Doge’, meaning head of state?
These are the ticket options for Les Fêtes Galantes, a May event held in the Hall of mirrors at Versailles. The website is very clear that all of these tickets require that you be dressed in a quality baroque style outfit for the magical occasion, or else you will not be permitted entry. They are serious about the authenticity of the night!
The name purportedly comes from the traditional French fêtes galantes, which were garden parties that were popular among the aristocracy during the 17th and 18th centuries, and which Louis XV was apparently known to hold in the Versailles gardens. These festivities included music, and dance as well as general merrymaking.
The evening begins from 6-7pm depending on ticket – higher priced tickets provide earlier access and thus more privacy. There are several rooms in the palace that are open to guests during the event, each with its own theme and entertainment, including dance classes in the Contredanse, a dance classic of the 17th century French court, or a concert of live music in the Royal Chapel. Guests can, throughout the evening, dance to music played by live orchestras, watch performances by actors and dancers, and enjoy food and drink at various stations throughout the palace.For higher ranks of ticket there is also the opportunity to tour the private chambers of the King (Louis XV), Madame du Barry (his mistress), or the Mesdames (the unmarried daughters of Louis XV.)
The bottom tier of ticket (Marquis/Marquess) gets a solitary glass of champagne, but all other levels have access to all-inclusive buffet until 11pm, with reportedly very good food. This is followed by a closing ball in which one and all come together to dance classically, before closing the night by a firework viewing from the Hall of Mirrors out onto the grounds. What a unique and fascinating opportunity to experience the opulence and extravagance of the French court and the Chateau’s beauty by night.
It is no surprise that these tickets are extremely sought after. To walk where the nobles walked, to do what they did, to exist within the most glamorous parts of the Chateau in a capacity unavailable to the majority of visitors – it is an intimate glimpse into a lifestyle that no longer exists, but holds an innate appeal to many. Without the humdrum of thousands of tourists, perhaps you will hear the whispers of the Chateau and its famed inhabitants a little more clearly. Come in your baroque attire, dancing and making merry just as those who did the same centuries before. The Chateau is often a museum, more of a place perused and photographed by those in the 21st century but when you take the time to celebrate the place and fully live in it, the Chateau will come alive, the gardens, halls and chambers embracing you as someone who belongs. Greet Versailles as a friend and let it whisk you away – to the 17th century.
Check out this video to learn more.
Le Grand Bal Masqué
Every year in June the Grand Masked ball is held in the gardens around the Orangerie, a majestic cathedral at the heart of the French garden. 2500 guests flock to attend, dressed to the nines in period appropriate gowns, wigs, waistcoats – and of course, masks.
The ball draws its inspiration from the 1745 Yew Ball, or ‘Bal des Ifs’ held by King Louis XV to celebrate the marriage of the Dauphin Louis to Maria Teresa Rafaela of Spain. The underlying intent though, was actually for the king to pursue a young woman he had set his sights on to become his next Mistress. Does Madame de Pompadour ring a bell? The Yew Ball was the first occasion they were thought to have contact, preceding a long love affair.
Thousands of guests including members of the royal court, foreign dignitaries, wealthy aristocrats and even those of more common birth attended this event. Part of what made this so fun was the fact that the guests were required to wear masks (some wore more elaborate disguises) so they could mingle incognito – the King and Queen themselves joined in, making valiant attempts at wearing costumes that would make them unrecognizable, though of course this didn’t always work.
Unlike the current Grand Masked Ball, the Masked ball took place in the Hall of mirrors, lavishly decorated with tapestries, chandeliers and (of course) mirrors. Sumptuous feasting, large live orchestra, elaborate costumes – masked balls became quite a popular party choice at Versailles, are famous for showing the excesses and wealth of the French Monarchy. They are also famous for sounding like a darn good time – which is why, I suppose, they have been bought back!
Today, the party starts at 11:30pm and is something of a rave. Each year the ball takes on a different overall theme, and transforms the gardens into a magical new world with light shows, elaborate performances, dancers, and live music. Of course there is food and wine – it is a ball of course! Can you imagine a night of dancing and singing in the beautiful gardens of the Chateau in the costume of an 18th century noble? The scent of night air and sound of music surrounding you as you join others to recreate the unabashed and outrageous parties of luxury and ecstasy of the French court?
Watch this video see the joie de vivre firsthand.
Let us know if a visit to Versailles on an upcoming tour would appeal to you! We love to hear suggestions and feedback from our travellers, and we also offer custom tour plans.
Until next time... Au Revoir!