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Versailles: an experience of Over-Tourism.

Versailles
Versailles

Over-tourism is changing our  travel experiences .

What is it and why?

A hot topic in the travel world, Over-tourism is the term used when too many tourists jam a destination or the area gets destroyed or damaged. Locals are protesting the impact on their neighborhoods or scenic areas.

Versailles
Versailles

I’m researching this subject because I am going to be doing a couple of talks next spring on Over-Tourism. Reading about the situations in Venice, Barcelona, Rome, Mont St. Michelle, Iceland, Cinque Terre and many other places everyone wants to visit has me fascinated and concerned.

To my amazement, I experienced “Over-Tourism” first hand in Paris in September. Where? Versailles—the fabulous palace of the Sun King, Louis the XIV.

Early morning at Versailles
Early morning at Versailles

Apparently everyone wants to see the Versaille and I was no exception. I had visited the colossal palace, known for opulence beyond belief, on a trip to Europe right out of college.

It was so long ago that I wanted to go again so I signed us up for a “Skip the Line Tour” in September and got on a bus for the 40 minute trip outside of Paris.

Early morning at Versailles
Early morning at Versailles

It is an impressive structure with lots of gold. Originally a hunting lodge, Louis XIV moved his court to Versailles in 1682 and proceeded to rule from there for most of his long career. He started the renovation in 1668 with a modest hunting lodge ultimately creating the largest place in Europe.  While there,  he spent a lot of the French people’s money making it the most luxurious court in Europe.

Versailles
Versailles

What bugged me was that I thought we’d just cruise right in since we were on a tour that promised skipping the long 2-3 hour long lines. Wrong.  We were herded into a line of “Skip the Line tours”, waiting more than an hour to go into the massive structure.

Then we went through more lines to pass security and to make our way through massive crowds.

the crowd by the entrance grew as we waited
The crowd by the entrance grew as we waited

Once we got inside, we could hardly move.  This is what it looked like.

Versailles
Trying to see the chapel at Versailles. The chapel was finished in 1710.

We had a good guide who described to us what we would see if we could see beyond the people. He apologized profusely about the crowds saying that 4 million people a year visit Versailles, but, alas, the building wasn’t built for 4 million.

Naturally I wanted to scream, “Well, why don’t you limit the tickets?” But, no one asked me.

What we did see were the fabulous ceilings, each one more ornate than in the room before.

Beautiful ceilings in Versailles
Beautiful ceilings in Versailles

We also saw paintings and statues of Louis XIV in every room. No exaggeration. Every room. The guy had an ego that wouldn’t quit.  Louis XIV died in 1715.  Versailles was turned into a museum in 1833 and the Treaty of Versailles was signed there in 1919.

Louis XIV at Versailles
Louis XIV at Versailles
Louis XIV at Versailles
Louis XIV at Versailles

We also learned he was as bald as a grape, hence he wore the big wigs.

Louis XIV at Versailles
Louis XIV at Versailles

The famous Hall of Mirrors was cool. It is a large room and seemed to hold the crowds a bit better or maybe people just walked on through. Seventeen great mirrors face the tall and arched windows.  I hung around as long as I could. It was an interesting creative challenge to take photos in the curved mirrors at the end. The Alice in Wonderland distortions captivated me.

Hall of Mirrors at Versailles
Hall of Mirrors at Versailles
Hall of Mirrors at Versailles
Hall of Mirrors at Versailles through the looking glass.

There wasn’t much in the way of furniture in Versailles, since much of it was destroyed or carted off during the French Revolution. But…..with so many people, who would see it anyway? I was sorry not to see a dining room set with the dishes like I saw in the palaces in St. Petersburg. We did see several ornate beds.

Bed chamber in Versailles
Bed chamber in Versailles
Bed chamber in Versailles
Bed chamber in Versailles

Eventually we made our way through mazes of rooms and out to the gardens. Wow. Fabulous. We didn’t have time to tour them all but what I did see left me wanting more.

The Gardens at Versailles
The Gardens at Versailles
The Gardens at Versailles
The Gardens at Versailles

There are Garden Only tours. I think that’s on the agenda for the next Versailles experience.

Crowds at Versailles
Crowds at Versailles

#Versailles #LouisXIV #Sun King

 

 

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.

Comments

8 Comments
  1. posted by
    Gwen Wallin
    Dec 18, 2017 Reply

    Great information and beautiful photos! Like you, I visited Versailles in the 70’s as part of a Calvin College study group. It has been on my list to revisit, but I willreconsider this. It is hard to enjoy sightseeing in the midst of crowds like that.

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Dec 18, 2017 Reply

      Well, I wouldn’t skip it but I’d do more research on how to avoid the crowds. I’d also allocate more time for the Gardens.

  2. posted by
    Ruth Butler
    Dec 18, 2017 Reply

    I’ll be interested in your researched take on over-tourism. Just read about it plaguing Amsterdam. My kids and their peers travel all over the place (inspired by their forward-thinking parents?) Are people traveling more in general?
    Great photos.

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Dec 18, 2017 Reply

      Hi Ruth, I am doing a talk at Olli (Aquinas College) on May 2 and then again at Rancho La Puerta in Mexico right after Memorial Day. Yes, travel has increased. Don’t have the numbers at my finger tips but it is substantial. Part of it is increased travel by Asians. Another reason are cheap flights and a fascination with cruises and River Boats. . And I believe another reason are baby boomers from US who are checking off bucket lists. Unfortunately they all seem to want to go to the same places. Barcelona and Venice are two others that have been impacted generating local protests. Iceland too. they have a population of 300,000 people and about 1.5 million tourists a year. Big Impact.

  3. posted by
    Margaret Idema
    Dec 18, 2017 Reply

    I’ve visited Versailles twice…the first time, there were few crowds but that was back in my college days. I think the over-crowding phenomenon may be one reason why I do the “wilderness” adventures…guess I’m in need of the peace and serenity that it offers. No doubt I’m missing out on some of the “must see’s” of the world. Maybe I’ll just have to get used to over-crowded tourist destinations! Will look forward to your Olli talk.

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Dec 18, 2017 Reply

      Your Wilderness trips are so fabulous I can understand why you’d enjoy. Nothing serene about Versailles. We are always so lucky that Kate shares some of them here on DesignDestinations.

  4. posted by
    Julie
    Dec 18, 2017 Reply

    Interesting post Susan – and a challenging topic – we had similar experience at Vatican – incredible crowding, impossible to move and difficulty hearing our guide or even staying up with him. Like you suggest maybe we need to treat these places like Galápagos Islands – only limited numbers of people can go – maybe it’s a lottery so it isn’t too elitist. Anyway, your photographs are amazing, as always!

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Dec 18, 2017 Reply

      Julie, Thanks for your comments. Much appreciated. I agree that a lottery/limiting tickets would make a huge difference. Bhutan limits visitors by charging $250 per person per day. While I was told that money went to fund schools, it does limit visitors to only high end tours. They do require that you go on a tour or with a licensed travel agent. No meandering on your own.

      We got lost in the Heritage in St. Petersburg because of the crowds. Totally lost our tour. Easy to happen when they don’t control the numbers.

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