JB and I are in agreement on our favorite France experience: getting lost in the grounds behind Le Petit Trianon at Versailles.
The Chateau de Versailles itself? Meh. Grandeur, gold-painted everything, blah blah blah. Didn't help that it was raining buckets the morning we visited and about 1,000,000,000 people were there. But Marie-Antoinette's Petit Trianon was lovely. After we toured it, JB's family was tired and decided to head back to Paris, but JB and I stayed and set off on our own to explore the grounds.
We hadn't gotten far when we stumbled upon The Hamlet, which I had no idea even existed. It's gorgeous, charming, not full of tourists and just...perfect.
It looks like a fairytale village, with beautiful cottages and a tiny farm. Apparently Marie-Antoinette had the Hamlet built so she could play at being a shepherdess, and invite guests for parties. The buildings mainly ring a gorgeous lake (complete with lily pads), and the landscaping is incredible.
The weather was changeable that day; it had been stormy in the morning when we toured the palace, but by the time we reached the Hamlet, it was windy and overcast, eventually becoming sunny. The moody weather made everything seem more mysterious, especially since we didn't know where we were.
We couldn't go in any of the buildings, but the little gardens were immaculate and full of veggies and beautiful flowers. One had a whole front yard full of white lilies:
There was a stream with a bridge, and a lake in the middle of everything with real flowering lilypads and lots of fish. Alleys between houses were transformed into secret tunnels by dense, leafy arbors.
And further down the lane were the tiny farm buildings, with farm animals! One yard had chickens and geese with weird heads, and a peacock and peahen. Another held two cows, another had several donkeys, there were at least two massive pigs, and my favorite pen: the goats.
There were different colors and sizes of goats, and some had old-fashioned leather collars with brass bells that rang when they walked. They were friendly and came up to the fence so we could pet them.
Above is my favorite, a shaggy little black one. Below is the white one that came over to investigate, and promptly started butting heads with the black one. So of course I had to pet both of them. BTW, check out the enormous pig in the background of the pic below.
A goat escaped while we were there; JB saw it clear the fence. But instead of running for the hills, it just stoof on the opposite side of the fence, chowing down on the weeds.
Nobody was around and I didn't want it to get lost! We finally found an employee who looked kind of like a security guard on the far side of the farm, standing near the donkey pen. I knew the word for goat (chevre) but not "jump" so we tried to explain in garbled Frenglish that a goat had escaped the pen. JB accopmanied this by miming "jump over a fence" with his hands. The guard kept glancing back and forth between us as we babbled. At first he looked utterly confused, then bored.
Eventually he said something that--at the time--I took to mean "it happens all the time." We thanked him, went back to say goodbye to the goat, and set off down a path that JB assured me would take us back to the Petit Trianon.
I hope the goat made it back to its brethren eventually. It's possible the guard just thought we were telling him that there were some goats over there, and wasn't that cool? Or he had no idea what we were saying and, in a particularly French way, didn't care.
After the hamlet, on the "path back to the Petit Trianon" we discovered more awesome old buildings, including what I think is the Temple of Love, a small music conservatory, extensive greenhouses and an orangery, of all things.
But...we got lost exploring small footpaths through the beautiful wilderness. It was totally worth it.
By the time we finally found the front of the Petit Trianon, it was 5:30 and everything was closed, including the tram. Our feet were killing us, but we began the super-long trek back to the palace, and our bus stop near it.
On the plus side, we took a shortcut through the palace gardens for free, something we hadn't been able to do when it was raining earlier in the day. Most people had gone home by then, but it was bright and sunny, and not so chilly. Perfect weather.
We had to run to catch the bus, but the whole afternoon was just perfect. And maybe we got lost, but we got to enjoy a lot more of the extensive grounds that way. I think Marie-Antoinette would have been proud.