Located in the region of Île-de-France to the north of the country, Yveline is one of the premier spots for culture vultures in France.
Although the 8th largest department in the country, with approximately 1.4 million inhabitants across a land area of just 2,284 km², and officially under the umbrella of the Paris metropolitan area, Yvelines is actually predominantly rural. Indeed, it is this melange of town and country which makes it such an outstanding location.
By no means hugely populated, Versailles nevertheless dominates the region due to its reputation. However, there are a number of other significant cities to be found, such as:
- Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (a conglomerate of smaller communes)
Founded in 1968 during the department restructure which followed the fragmentation of Seine-et-Oise, Yvelines also absorbed the communes of Châteaufort and Toussus-le-Noble from Essonne a year later.
Although the department's history may be relatively short, the list of cities under its jurisdiction more than compensates for this. Connected to the River Seine to the north and home of Versailles, the official capital city of France from 1682 to 1715 and 1722 to 1789, it remains a hugely important cultural centre and is today considered one of the most affluent, 'highbrow' areas of France. Furthermore, with a territory once inhabited by generations of royalty and cultural heavyweights like Emile Zola, Ivan Turgenev and Claude Debussy, it's easy to see why Yvelines continues to attract so many tourists each year.
The climate of Yvelines can be best described as pseudo-maritime. As such, you can expect cooler temperatures than you'd find elsewhere in France, broken up intermittently by the odd heatwave. As the department prefecture, Versailles is typical of the average temperatures in Yvelines:
Average temperature in Versailles
You can't visit Yvelines without taking a trip to Versailles and you definitely cannot visit Versailles without gasping at the Château de Versailles. Otherwise known as the Palace of Versailles, this incredible edifice is a true symbol of royal opulence, purportedly costing somewhere between 13 and 30 billion dollars at modern exchange rates!
Tired of political in-fighting and decentralisation in Paris, Louis XIV took up this former royal hunting lodge and, from 1660 onwards, embarked on a series of building projects which would produce the largest palace in the world and the centre of the Ancien Régime. The historical significance of the palace is matched only by the incredible riches found within, the most famous being the Galerie des Glaces ('Hall of Mirrors'). Holding some 357 mirrors and balanced out by ceiling paintings by the artist Le Brun of Louis XIV in various guises, the Galerie has witnessed some of history's greatest moments, such as the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
While it is not possible to mention all the bounties of this seminal piece of Baroque architecture, other must-see areas include the State Apartment, the King's Private Apartments, the Royal Chapel and the incredible Gardens by André Le Nôtre (containing a Grand Canal and the Fountain of Latona). Special attention should also be given to the Bureau du Roi (King's Desk), completed in 1769 and one of the most lavishly decorated pieces of furniture in existence. Quite simply, the Palace is one of the most beautiful sights in Europe, let alone France.
Yvelines is home to a number of other exceptional châteaux. Built in the late 17th century, the Château de Louveciennes is an outstanding example of neo-Classical architecture, further lit up by both the adjoining 18th century Pavillon de Louveciennes and the gardens.
Also well worth a visit is the Château de Rambouillet. Built in 1368 and expanded by French kings, it is today used as a summer home by the French President. The surrounding 20,000 hectares of woods preserve the tranquillity of the area, while sights like the Grand Lounge and the grand marble bathing room (designed by Napoleon) highlight the interior.
Yvelines is more than just châteaux though. Found in the commune of Poissy, the Villa Savoye is considered a key work by the legendary Swiss architect Le Corbusier. Completed in 1929 in the-then-fashionable International Style, the Villa conforms to Le Corbusier's 'Five Points' for aesthetic value, including supporting columns elevating the building, and is certainly hugely impressive. However, a mere summary can only hope to cover a fraction of the sights in Yvelines, such is the beauty of the department.
Yvelines is well resourced for family activities. If it's sports you're after, try the many facilities at the Stade Municipal Georges-Lefèvre in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Alternatively, you can find numerous theme parks and zoos across the department, such as the Espace Rambouillet and Bergie Nationale in Rambouillet and the Parc Zoologique de Sauvage in Emance. There are even opportunities for horse riding at the Poney-club de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in Trappes.
Museums, galleries and culture
Visitors will be immediately drawn to the Museum of French History located within the Palace of Versailles and its excellent collection of artefacts. However, Versailles is also home to other excellent museums such as the Musée Lambinet, with its mixture of religious art and Versailles local history.
Outside of Versailles, Saint-Germain-en-Laye is the premier spot for culture. Among the many museums and galleries in the commune, you will find the Museum of National Antiquities (holding archaeological collections from prehistory to the Middle Ages), the Musée Claude Debussy (covering the life of this famous Yvelinois) and the Musée Départemental Maurice Denis (specialising in Symbolist and Post-Impressionist art).
If you want to take in a show, the best places in Yvelines are the Théâtre Montansier in Versailles and the Théâtre Alexandre Dumas in Saint-Germain-en-Laye (where Dumas himself was formerly director).
The centre of Versailles is naturally extremely popular with shoppers. However, if you are looking for local crafts, the Notre-Dame Market in Versailles is the best place to visit in Yvelines and is considered one of the finest markets in France.
Saint-Germain-en-Laye is particularly impressive, with some 850 shops, most of which are around the historic district, and markets 5-days a week in the place du Marché-Neuf and place Christiane-Frahier. Other alternatives include the shopping mall in Plaisir.
Yvelines is a walker's paradise, being one of the most rural areas in the region. Four national parks are located within the borders, including the Parc de la Haute Vallée de Chevreuse and the Parc Naturelle de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. Forests can also be found wherever you visit, the largest being the forest of Rambouillet at some 22,000 hectares and one of the most beautiful being the Forest of Marly, which covers one-third of Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche.
The many gardens found in the châteaux of Yvelines are also excellent, the best naturally being the gardens of the Château of Versailles.
There are some seventeen courses in Yvelines, including Golf Blue Green de Villennes-sur-Seine and Golf de Guerville.
Yvelines also contains one of the best golf courses in France – La Tuilerie-Bignon in Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche, formerly used for the Trophée Lancôme.
Food and drink
Being the home of modern etiquette and cooking practices, Versailles is the outstanding area for eating out in Yvelines. The Château itself has an excellent restaurant, while the surrounding area is packed with decent establishments.
Ease of access
Being approximately 25 kilometres from the centre of Paris, getting to Yvelines presents no problem. Versailles and other cities are connected to Paris on the RER subway line, allowing for easy access to Charles de Gaulle International Airport or the Eurostar train to and from London.
Once inside Yvelines, trains from Versailles to most of the other major cities run every 15 minutes.
Value for money
Due to the proximity to Paris and the outstanding scenery, accommodation in Yvelines will not be cheap, particularly if you decide to stay in Versailles. However, there are hotels, apartments and bed and breakfasts galore around the department, so have a good look around for the best price.
With one of the best sights in the continent so close by and one of the world's capitals just half an hour away, there are few better places to visit than Yvelines. Brimming with history and culture, all against a fantastic rural backdrop, it really does provide a fabulous insight into the best of France.