European Heritage Days in Versailles France

Main entrance to The Royal Palace of Versailles

European Heritage Days in France celebrates cultural appreciation and the preservation of history, with access to unique sites — some closed to the public and most at a discounted price. They provide valuable educational opportunities, engaging visitors in learning about traditions and local history. They also celebrate regional intangibles like language, music, dance, crafts and—of course—wine. 

One of the big reasons Mallory and I moved to France was to explore the rich cultural heritage here. This will be our second European Heritage Day weekend. It is an opportunity for visitors and the French alike to discover the culture of this enchanting country. This year we have to decide between 12 activities and or sites to visit. So many experiences are available in our area from a Loire river cruise to visiting a troglodyte farm-town. 

Last year we went to the town of Versailles because it was the birthplace of The Revolution and the beginning of the French Republic. This was our third trip to the palace and the town it was named after. Despite it being the middle of September we were still crushed by the amount of summer visitors as well as the French participating in the heritage day celebration. Versailles was awash in sunglasses and the colorful clothes of happy tourists.

Visitors appreciating French heritage

Exploring French History at Salle du Jeu de Paume (The Royal Tennis Court)

First we visited the Salle du Jeu de Paume (The Royal Tennis Court), a key site in French history where the first acts of the French Revolution began. When King Louis XVI locked members out of the palace, the Third Estate— those who represented the working class, met nearby at the Salle du Jeu de Paume. This former tennis court in Versailles played a pivotal role when, on June 20, 1789, members of the Third Estate, frustrated by their limited representation in the Estates-General, gathered there.

They declared themselves the National Assembly (as they represented 96% of the French population) and took the Tennis Court Oath. Pledging not to disband until a new constitution was established, thus formally challenging the monarchy’s absolute power. This oath marked the start of a series of events that led to the French Revolution, the fall of the Bastille, and the eventual establishment of a French republic. This important and inspiring step symbolized the people’s determination to secure their personal rights and freedoms. 

Housed in a beautiful Versailles building, the indoor court is a large rectangle. The first things we noticed was it wasn’t as wide as a modern tennis court and the spectators were enclosed in a walkway around it. Lined against the walls in fine white marble are the statues, busts and paintings of the fathers of the French Republic.

As we wandered the court we noticed plaques lining the walls representing every part of France. Sure enough after Mallory got her pronunciation of Saumur correct, we were able to find our hometown and its representatives on the wall. The mood was solemn and respectful as whispers echoed in the court competing with each other from large groups of French discussing their heritage. It felt great to be present and watching these proud people discussing their history.

Interior of The Congrès du Parlement français

Touring the assembly hall at the Congress du Parlement français

Our Heritage Day adventure continued when we visited the Congrès du Parlement français. The Congress of the French Parliament is the name given to the body created when both houses, the Senate and the National Assembly meet at the Palace of Versailles. Here they vote on revisions to the constitution and listen to speeches by the President. A quite exceptional place, it resides within one of the wings of the Palace of Versailles. The majority of tourists pass by this grey exterior without ever suspecting its importance. 

Usually closed to the public, it is open on Heritage Days. We found it incredible to see what was once Louis’s royal theater now converted into a government assembly hall. If it wasn’t for the other visitors, I would have described this place as being cozy. Natural lighting from the stained-glass skylight spilled onto the comfortable looking plush red seats. Beautiful rose marble columns hold up a golden ceiling. Grand paintings showcase the founders, dark heavy wood paneling contrasts brilliantly with the green marble around the speaker’s chair and everything is accented with gold leaf. I try to imagine what the Sun-King (Who declared, “I am the State and the State is me.”) would have thought about his Royal Theater being such a large part of Western Democracy and the evolution of The French Republic. 

Looking toward the speaker of the Congrès du Parlement français

Here is where French leaders discuss policy and it becomes law for the betterment of the people. It seemed like a stage for a hidden opera that plays a few times a year, so witnessing this den of power was awesome to behold. Most of the year it is disguised by the huge vastness that is Versailles. Mallory and I have walked past it many times on our other visits never noticing the importance of this nondescript wing. Again it felt like a place of reverence where people move slowly and murmur in hushed voices. 

Unveiling Hidden Gems in France

Traveling to different areas for heritage days allows us to discover even more for our clients. Exploring France’s rich culture is always a delightful experience, and this summer has proven to be a treasure trove of memorable moments. From city festivals to medieval jousting spectacles outside castles, and the breathtaking sight of twenty-five hot air balloons ascending into the sky simultaneously, it feels as though there’s an endless array of summertime activities to revel in.

While it’s somewhat bittersweet that European Heritage Days mark the end of this vibrant summer season, our anticipation for the adventures of fall and winter are now on the horizon. In the meantime, we’re on a quest to discover the next hidden gems for our clients. We relish the art of crafting meticulously curated surprises, each designed to elevate your journey and create unique, unforgettable moments during your vacation. 

Discovering the Beauty of European Heritage Days

European Heritage Days offer a splendid opportunity to immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of European history and culture. These special days grant you access to hidden treasures, unveil the fascinating stories behind iconic sites, and celebrate the intangible heritage that weaves communities together. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a culture seeker, or simply curious, Heritage Days beckon you to embark on a journey of exploration, discovery, and appreciation for the timeless beauty of Europe’s past.

For those eager to delve deeper into the experience, a plethora of websites in English are available. Among them, I found my hometown of Saumur’s interactive website to be particularly informative. It offers a comprehensive list of attractions in the area paired with a user-friendly map for easy navigation. Nearly every theater, boat ride, museum, and activity extends either free or discounted admission during this interesting weekend.

Additionally, remember that certain unique sites, like the French Congress, open their doors exclusively on European Heritage Days. So, if your visit includes the third weekend of September, I wholeheartedly recommend perusing the tourist information websites of the towns you’ll be exploring. For those curious or in search of more information, I’ve included links to both France’s Ministry of Culture and Saumur’s websites (in English). As you traverse France, remember to savor her subtle charms, for they are the essence of her enduring allure.

https://journeesdupatrimoine.culture.gouv.fr/en/

https://www.ot-saumur.fr/en/european-heritage-days/

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