Intricate and fascinating gardens surround Le Petit Trianon, Marie-Antoinette's getaway; even if you don't bother with the house itself, they are a wonderful space. There are several wings to the gardens, whose variety give you plenty to explore.
Maps are available both as permanent posters and as handy leaflets, and it is wise to spend a few moments orientating yourself. Heading towards the orangerie you stumble across one of the most bizarre features of the garden, a rock. Adding monumental rugged charm in keeping with an eighteenth century aesthetic of the sublime, it adds interest to a modern walk.
Over to one side is 'le hameau', or the Queen's hamlet. In keeping with Rousseau's ideas of the noble savage, Marie-Antoinette maintained a small farm where she could play at being a peasant. It is still maintained as a farm where children can pet the animals. The rustic charm is in sharp contrast with the overblown grandeur of the rest of the estate. Built in 1783, it only just predates the 1789 revolution and demonstrates how far from the reality of French peasant life the aristocracy was as they recreated it for their own recreation.
You can see the temple from many spots in the garden, orientating you in the intricate space. The gardens are so carefully designed that none of this is accidental. Marie-Antointte choreographed her life as far as palace strictures allowed.
The gardens themselves are beautiful, with a wide variety of plants responding to the seasons in various ways. Around the temple is a landscaped garden, while round the back is Jussieu's garden, a different style commissioned by the emperor. These photographs were all taken in autumn, in all its colourful glory.
On the route between Le Petit Trianon and Le Grand Trianon lies a French garden. Here is the Queen's chapel, as well as established beds and walkways. In the centre, in front of the French pavilion, is set a fountain with yet another carefully sculpted cherubic centrepiece.
Beaumarchais' play the Marriage of Figaro was banned, but Marie-Antoinette had her own private theatre here and was able to perform herself there. She enjoyed this aspect of dressing up and 'playing the other' as much as being the peasant in the hamlet. It also served as a minor act of rebellion against her husband's establishment. The theatre was built in 1777, also by Mique, and is sadly not always open to the public. Unassuming from the outside, the interior is far more intricate than one might expect. Further buildings include a Japanese pagoda and French pavilion.
Whatever kind of landscape you like, the gardens at Le Petit Trianon are likely to have it in miniature. They really give you a sense of the space as Marie-Antoinette's retreat, and as her attempt to bring the world to her since she could not go to the world.