The Gardens of Versailles and Wine at Le Petite Venise

A treasure on our doorstep yet I can probably count the few times that we have visited the Château of Versailles so was delighted that a sunny, winter day prompted an idea to wander through the amazing gardens that date back to 1661. Commissioned by Louis XIV, André Le Nôtre undertook the work together with a prestigious team: Jean-Baptiste Colbert, directing the project from 1664 – 1683, Charles Le Brun, appointed First Painter of the King produced sketches for the proposed statues and fountains and, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, architect who amongst various duties, planned and built the Orangerie. A massive task that ran parallel to the construction of the Château, taking 40 years to complete; flower beds, fountains and the Canal were realised from land that was grass, woodland and marsh.

The impressive Fountain d'Apollo depicts the mythical son of Zeus on his chariot rising out of the night to begin a new day. Jean-Baptiste Tuby produced this lead monument in Paris at the manufacture des Gobelins before transporting to Versailles for installation and gilding. Tuby was born in Rome 1n 1635 and died in Paris in 1700 and was regarded as one of the premier sculptors of the court of Louis XIV.

But no cold-day walk can pass without a hot drink treat and whilst the La Petite Venise provided a very good café crème, the decadently rich, almost- thick-enough-to-stand-a-spoon-in, hot chocolate was declared ‘the best’. This is a pretty setting at the head of the canal, the restaurant housed in a converted stable where exposed beams, rough plasterwork walls and cobble stone floors tastefully contrast against ultra modern fixtures and furnishings, though it is a shame that given its historical French setting, the limited menu is Italian.

Arriving mid-afternoon and towards the end of lunchtime service, it was a relaxed atmosphere but plenty of entertainment around us: a furtive middle aged couple enjoying the moment … tables being returned to the dining room from a rear function room … several part-used bottles of wine being decanted into each other, corks replaced and ‘new’ bottles stashed in the adjacent storage area to presumably be sold by the glass; hygiene aside, a discount is surely due, as the initial customer would have already paid excise duty? An interesting thought if you decide to enjoy wine-by-the-glass at the Petite Venise …