Marie Antoinette’s rustic retreat.

Regular readers will know how fond I am of all things Marie Antoinette, an obsession since childhood I think, aided and abetted by Sofia Coppola’s fun 2006 film. And since I love the gardens of Le Nôtre, a trip to Versailles can always be fitted in and will, of course, entail a stroll through the Queen’s domaine, her fantasy escape from the protocol of the French court in the palace.

Le Hameau, her little rustic garden escape, is beautifully restored with potagers surrounding the farmhouses, and farm animals perched in the barns and dovecotes.

The watermill

The watermill

Le Hameau is seen as a spoilt Queen’s folly and I overheard a tour guide invoking it as virtually the cause of the French Revolution. However, during the latter half of the 18th century, these rustic garden creations were all the rage amongst the French aristocracy. They were influenced by the writings of the philosopher Rousseau (“the nobility of nature”), the allegories in Art of the era, and the romance of the English Landscape Movement with its mock ruins and rustic villages. Marie Antoinette had almost certainly visited gardens such as Le Moulin Joli along the Seine, built by landscape architect Watelet over 20 years earlier, with its mill, rustic houses and grotto.

Le Hameau, Versailles

Innovative in design, the Queen’s House and billiard room were linked by a curved, covered balcony.

Le Hameau was constructed in the style of Normandy timbered farmhouses, with eleven houses surrounding a lake. Each house had its own little garden planted with Savoy cabbages, artichokes and cauliflower, surrounded by a hornbeam hedge. There was a mill, and a tower in the form of a lighthouse, apple and cherry trees and eggs and milk were produced for the Queen’s table.

The Hamlet was part of Marie Antoinette’s estate, linked to the more formal Le Petit Trianon by a jardin anglais, very much a contrast to the grand, formal landscape of terraces and topiary surrounding the Château. Here she could dress as a shepherdess in her rural retreat, very much like the scenes on toile de jouy fabric!

Le hameau

 

Whilst the Queen may have needed the escape from the strictures of the court, she isolated herself there, leaving herself open to accusations of neglecting her responsibilities, rumours of affairs and her unintentional mockery of the French peasants, in a time of economic depression.

The Tower and bridge across the lake.

The Tower and bridge across the lake.

Barely ten years after Le Hameau was completed, Marie Antoinette was guillotined. As she climbed the scaffold in those final moments, she stepped on her executioner’s foot; her final words were, “Pardon me sir, I meant not to do it”.

A rose on the Queen's house.

A rose on the Queen’s house.

{Versailles is 17km west of the Paris city centre. Entrance to the Palace gardens is free. There is a joint Entrance fee to Le Petit Trianon, Le Grand Trianon and Le Hameau, currently €10.}

Chateau de Versailles.

11 thoughts on “Marie Antoinette’s rustic retreat.

    • Glad you enjoyed the tour. The gardens of the Château open at 9am I think and a hired golf cart is the best way of exploring at first. Le Hameau opens later, midday I think, and it pays to be there early. Hope you enjoy!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thanks for another great tour. I was just to Italy on another blog! I think I mentioned this to you before about French Azilum, a refuge for French Aristocrats in Pennsylvania, who had built a house for Marie Antoinette to escape to. The website is Frenchazilum.com.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another rainy day brightened by your post. I have the Sofia Coppola film and will watch it this evening. I adore Le Hameau and whatever Marie Antoinette’s faults, I do think she deserved an escape from the world of formality and hostility at court.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I quite agree Karen. And what a good idea – will get out my dvd too! My favourite scene is when she arrives in France from Vienna & has to put on her French apparel!

      Like

  3. Pingback: Toile de Jouy at home. | Jardin

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