For visitors to Paris, especially first-timers, taking the train out to the Palace of Versailles, just west of the city, has long been considered a must-do experience.
Now, for some lucky visitors, it seems Versailles is coming to them, rolling into Metro stations on trains outfitted to resemble some of the palace’s most iconic spaces. They may not provide the royal treatment as such, but they do offer a unique twist on a popular trip.
The train cars, which operate on the city’s RER C line, have been lined with a high-tech plastic film that mimics the paintings, statuary and general opulence of seven venues in the chateau. Among them:
- The Hall of Mirrors: Elaborate ceiling murals and simulated golden statues hint at the eye-popping opulence of the palace’s most famous space.
- The Gardens: The domed ceiling appears to open up to the sky through a leaf-covered trellis, while ponds and plantings seem to extend beyond the confines of the train.
- The Library of Louis XVI: Between the trompe l’oeil books, busts and vases, you can almost imagine Louis seeking refuge here from the growing rabble outside the palace gates.
The project, a joint effort between the palace and train operator SNCF, is designed to provide an advanced glimpse of one of the country’s most popular attractions. More than 6.5 million people toured the palace last year, with as many as 10,000 a day riding the train to get there.
“Tourists arriving at Versailles will discover parts of the palace they will be able to visit a few minutes later,” Catherine Pégard, president of the Chateau de Versailles, told reporters.
That is, they will if they’re lucky enough to catch the right train. With three such trains currently in service and a fourth set to start rolling soon, the palace-inspired cars are expected to account for just under one-quarter of the 70 daily round trips to Versailles.
“The rolling stock schedule is planned in advance, of course, but (specific trains) are difficult to follow,” SNCF spokesman Antoine Debièvre told NBC News. “So it will stay a surprise for passengers.”
Other passengers, of course, are more likely to find spray-painted graffiti than grand scenery. And, either way, the ride is ultimately part of a heavily-used commuter line, so it’s unlikely anyone is going to confuse the ride with the real thing.
Still, it’s a nice touch and one that’s likely to have rail fans dreaming of similar opportunities closer to home: Scenes from inside the White House and Capitol Building on the Acela Express, perhaps? Or West Point and Fort Ticonderoga on the Adirondack? From rural landscapes on the Lake Shore Limited to ocean vistas on the Coast Starlight, the trains would not only tell the story of the scenery outside the windows, but also provide a pleasant way to pass the time.
Amtrak, are you listening?
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him on Twitter.