Length 10.4 km (6.5 miles), terrain: mainly flat with light hills
Paris Running Routes:
Seine island of St. Louis, St. Paul, botanical garden
Left bank and Luxembourg Gardens
Paris' green heart: Bois de Boulogne
Canal St. Martin
Rock formations of Parc Chaumont
Seine loop with Champs Elysees and Eiffel Tower
Seine riverside run
Bois de Vincennes
Versailles Palace Gardens
For more running routes, see Route List
You may have heard that Versailles is the biggest and most spectacular palace in the world. And you may have heard that the palace gardens are one of the landmark examples of European gardening, full of fountains, statues, reflecting pools and manicured hedges. But maybe you haven't heard that the gardens are free, and open to the public every day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. And they are actually quite easy to get to, using the Paris public transport network.
|Autumn colors in the Versailles gardens|
So, if you'd like to try the Versailles Challenge, just jump on one of the commuter trains of the RER "C" line, heading towards St. Quentin or Versailles itself. The SARA and VICK trains all stop at either the Versailles Chateau station or the Versailles Chantiers station. The two Versailles stations are just a few blocks apart, and a short walk to the palace. The current price from the city is €3.50.
|Avenue de Paris, looking towards the chateau|
The town itself is elegant and worth a visit in its own right: set up by the king to house government offices and employees, and was the French capital for 100 years. It's a lot like Berlin's Potsdam: a pleasant, planned town created to provide a nice first impression of the king's neighborhood.
Standing at the corner, next to the mairie, turn west to face the palace a few blocks in the distance. Now run the two blocks to the big open, cobble-stoned plaza in front of the palace, now used mainly for parking. Run past the equestrian statue of Louis XIV, who built the palace, and head through the first, ornate metal gate.
|Versailles entrance: to enter gardens, run between the 2 buildings on right|
The palace is one of the most opulent buildings in the world, with golden fences and decorations glittering in the sun, and imposing facades everywhere you look.
|The palace from the front|
This is the way into the gardens. Just run through the arched walkways to the gardens on the other side. There is a boarding spot right there for a little train that takes people on tours of the gardens. The people will still be pretty numerous here, but the gardens are so big that even here there is plenty of room to run past them.
|The gardens just behind the palace|
|Overlooking the huge grounds: full of great running trails|
Next, you'll come to the Apollo fountain at about the 1.5-km mark, with the god driving his chariot horses through the pond. Immediately thereafter, the "Grand Canal" starts, a cross-shaped lake that dominates the park. To run in the gardens means having to run around the lake.
|Fountain of Apollo, with Grand Canal lake in background|
To follow this route, head to the right side of the lake, where the café and the rowboat-rental are. This is the liveliest corner of the gardens, and the most fun place to people-watch. Just watch out for all the bicycles and rental golf-carts that vie for the walkways.
|The lake, with boats and café|
When you reach the water, keep heading west directly next to the wall, along Allée de Bailly. The main path is paved, but there is a little dirt path to the right side, next to the wall. The main path later turns to cobblestones and isn't very pleasant to run on.
|Allée de Bailly: suddenly fields and woods everywhere|
You will soon be running out between farm fields and woods. At the third turn-off to the left, where you will see a wooden gate to a horse pasture on the left, turn left onto the Allée de la Ceinture, at the 4-km mark. This is also just before reaching the stone wall along the west edge of the grounds, which you can see bordering the far side of the pastures.
|The turn-off onto Allée de la Ceinture, along meadows full of horses and sheep|
You will now come to the western entrance into the park at Grille Royale, to the west of the lake. Now turn left to run through the open lawns leading down to the lake, at the 6-km mark.
|At the intersection of the lake|
Round the southern tip, at the 7.5-km mark, then take the diagonal path to the right, another lane called Allée de la Reine. This time you're heading towards the eastern tip of the lake, at the Apollo Fountain. This avoids the ever-growing crowds along the eastern edge of the lakeside.
|Last stretch along Allée de la Reine towards Fountain of Apollo|