Marie Antoinette is the only French queen to have ever imposed her personal taste on Versailles, and nowhere is that more evident than at Hameau de la Reine, located in the park surrounding Versailles. There, Louis XVI’s wife escaped from the court of Versailles, as well as from the protocol of her regal life, with her attendants. Lush English-style gardens were created for the queen, and present-day visitors to the estate can stroll through these gardens, which were among the first in France to feature flowers. A visit to Versailles is available on Vantage’s Seine River Cruise: Paris & Highlights of Normandy, and while here you must sneak a peek at the former queen’s private hideaway.
A Rustic Retreat
Built between 1783 and 1787, the Hameau de la Reine was designed to appear as a rustic country village from the outside, a combination of French, Norman, and Flemish styles. The interior, however, was a much more lavish Rococo style to provide the luxury the queen and her attendants were accustomed to. The queen didn’t simply lounge about her gardens as she avoided the prying eyes and responsibility of the court. Instead, she engaged in what today might be considered role-play: She and her attendants dressed as local shepherdesses and pretended to live like those far below that of court status. Given the amount of France’s money she eventually spent, it was quite clear she had no inkling of how the lower classes lived. The poorer French citizens started to resent her and the monarchy, and rumors swirled of Marie Antionette having lovers who stayed at the Hameau de la Reine with her.
A Lasting Legacy
Although Marie Antoinette was eventually hated by the French people and in the end was put to death by guillotine in 1793, she has remained an important part of popular culture in Versailles — likely far more beloved in death than she ever was in life. Her gardens are a testament to her lasting popularity. Each house at the “Queen’s Hamlet” features its own garden, chestnut trees, and climbing plants that adorn the outer walls. As with everything she did, Marie Antoinette developed such a passion for her gardens that once she finished one, another was started right away.
Though its barn was destroyed and it was left abandoned after the French Revolution, the Hameau de la Reine was restored and renovated in the 1990s, bringing Marie Antoinette’s idyllic retreat back to life. Today, it is among one of the most charming sights of a trip through Paris and Normandy. Visitors intrigued by Marie Antoinette’s tumultuous life will relish the juxtaposition of tranquility that succeeds her.