After the Lufthansa bag fiasco at CDG ended, I finally was able to start le voyage into Paris. Luckily, there was no line to buy a ticket to the Versailles Rive Gauche RER station on the “C” line at the CDG RER ticket booth and I caught an express RER B train into Paris. The map below shows the airport and hotel locations for context.
However, I paid for this luck with both the awkward transfer at St-Michel-Notre Dame and the unhurried nature of the RER C. It took around an hour and half to arrive at Versailles. Still, this is an amazingly short amount of time considering that CDG is northeast and Versailles southwest of Paris, and also as compared to where I live, New York, which does not feature an express train to any airport.
Versailles is a rich suburban town of almost 90,000 inhabitants and is most famous for being the home of the royal palace. Built by Louis VIII and Louis XIV and designed by a host of well known-architects, including Louis Le Vau, Andre Le Notre and Jules Hardouin Mansart, the palace is, in my opinion, the most ridiculous and beautiful house ever built. I say this because I feel the chateau combines history, craftsmanship, politics and physical geography in a way that no other house can match. Hearst Castle and the Biltmore are both ridiculous enough but too new, Schonbrun has the size, Buckingham Palace the history, the Alhambra the craftmanship and the Potala the location, but none combine the forces in such a focused vision as at Versailles. It’s almost inconceivable that it was designed for one person – obviously one person with a massive retinue, but still. As such, it’s impossible to put a price on the house. In addition, the gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are blessed with beautiful topiaries, multiple fountains and a Grand Canal that stretches for over a mile where you can canoe and feed swans. It’s a pleasant place to spend an afternoon after taking a tour of the palace interior.
We were staying at the Trianon Palace Versailles, by Waldorf-Astoria, and also, and more importantly, in the Hilton Hotels family. Since our flight from New York left us arriving in Paris on a Sunday, it seemed fine to bang out for the day in Versailles. You see, not much happens in France on a Sunday.
Additionally, I wanted somewhere quiet to sleep and since I had a free night certificate from meeting the signup bonus on the Citi Hilton Reserve credit card, I booked the hotel. I had been to the chateau two or three times before, but my friend hadn’t. Additionally, I had not yet toured the town or seen the full extent of the gardens. Hilton’s other Paris hotels suck location wise – they are near CDG, Orly Airport and La Defense – not exactly the cream of touristy zip codes, there.
We tried to get a cab ride to the hotel from the train station, but strangely the cabdriver said it would be easier to walk – I guess he didn’t want 20 euros. It was about a 30-45 minute hike with our bags, or 20-30 without, and we managed to walk through the Sunday morning market, which looked to have been vibrant but unfortunately was closing down for the day. Luckily, we also passed a couple bakeries I couldn’t help but go solicit for pastries, including Maison Philippe Pele.
The hotel is located near the end of the Boulevard de la Reine, which has tall trees finely manicured to mimic the ones on the chateau’s Grand Canal and is also directly adjacent, north of the palace grounds.
I had never stayed at a Waldorf-Astoria before – I had only walked by the one in New York on the way to the subway and seen the famous marque in gold letters – and I was excited to see what my free night certificate was worth! The luxuriously imposing hotel gates were followed by a paved stone drive to the hotel’s front door. The original hotel building is structured like a palace (duh!), but there is a newer (and uglier) building that is considered part of the hotel, as well – it’s called The Pavilion. The grounds have a mixture of fine lawns, paths and undergrowth, and were beautiful.
Walking into the hotel, I immediately was struck by the extra-long, light-drenched hallway, with ceilings of plus 20 feet and windows almost as high (the pictures below are at night, sorry.). The check-in desk has a darker and more modern design to it and since we arrived before the designated check-in time of 3:00 pm, we were told our room wasn’t ready. This was semi-disappointing to me, since I have top-tier Diamond status at Hilton properties and we had arrived around only an hour and a half early. I guess the look on my face showed well my disappointment, as we had barely turned around and walked 30 paces to the concierge before the front desk attendant caught up with us and said she had found a room for us. Good news!
The room we received, instead of the base pavilion room which is the only bookable room when using a free night award from the Citi HHonors Reserve credit card, was instead a top floor King Deluxe Palace Garden Room. Great news!
Being France the elevator, of course, fit two people and their luggage very awkwardly and had no ceiling trap – in other words, the perfect place to get stuck in a fire. In a Motel 6, this is whatever, but the Trianon Palace Versailles is a 300 euro per night hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant by Gordon Ramsay. I’m used to this, but it’s a little ridiculous and a lot dangerous.
The elevator stopped on the fourth floor – fifth floor in the U.S. – and the room was only a few doors down. In my head, I paused a second and said to myself, “Am I really going to stay in a Waldorf? Yes!”
I inserted the key card and turned right into a large, well-kept and modern room that had a balcony and lots of space to put luggage. The design was clean and comfortable without being overly luxurious or ostentatious.
Impressed, I walked back to the door and continued into the bathroom, which was also beautiful and balconic! The bathroom floors were marble and featured ambient heating, which felt awesome the next morning. There was also a big tub and a separate shower – rare for a French hotel – along with Salvatore Ferragamo toiletries.
I opened the French doors to the balcony and realized the good view of the Chateau. After laying down on the bed for ten minutes or so, I headed off to explore the chateau (blog post here).
Later that night, my luggage had still not arrived, which was disappointing, but I was ready to turn in. The bed was super-comfortable and the window shades blacked out the light pretty well. Since I was zonked from a full day of traveling, eating, drinking (the Diamond amenity was two free drinks at the Long Bar) and sight-seeing, it didn’t take long to fall asleep.
The next morning, I wanted to go swimming, so I went downstairs into what turned out to be a giant subterranean wing of the hotel. First, I encountered the Guerlain spa, which smelled heavenly; the prices unfortunately not so. The gym followed and it was decently equipped with free weights, treadmills and weight machines. Steps beyond the gym led further down to the pool – which was majestic. Honestly, with the morning light coming in and the tilework, it looked just awesome. The pool attendant even let me borrow some goggles for free.
After swimming, I wanted to get into Paris and really start the vacation, so around 930 am I packed up and checked out. The checkout process was simple – there are no factures with free nights!
Overall, the hotel experience was excellent and I would recommend it to anyone who would like to see the chateau and grounds and city and not have to feel rushed about missing something in Paris. This goes double anytime when there is lots of sunshine not in August, the big tourist month, as the crowds aren’t as numerically flagrant and spending the afternoon lounging on or near the Grand Canal is a inexpensive, and I would argue local, treat. If you want to see Versailles and the Chateau properly, than stay here – on points or a free night credit, of course!