It was almost like a scene from “Night at the Museum,” starring Ben Stiller. Except it was “Day Off at Versailles,” starring the Anglo-American Press Association.


The event aired on Monday, March 18th, when about 40 of us got a wonderful “insiders” tour of the Chateau de Versailles on the day when its doors are closed to the public.


We followed museum historian and curator Beatrix Saule, who led us through the halls, salons and bedrooms of Louis XIV’s palace, regaling us with tales about how the court lived. Her giant set of keys jingling, Ms. Saule took us through unlocked doors and behind the scenes. We discovered some amazing things. For example, Marie Antoinette’s heavy, brocade bedspread was found at a New York antique dealer’s in the 1960s! As it turns out, getting back the palace’s furnishings is one of the top concerns of every Versailles curator.


The court was chased from the chateau by a mob on October 5, 1789, and all the furnishings were taken. That’s the reference date curators use in reconstituting and decorating the palace today. Ms. Saule told us that chairs, tables and all sorts of items are still being found the world over. We saw a recently acquired, lovely little writing desk that also belonged to Marie Antoinette. It was discovered in a private home. Versailles bought it back for seven million euros! Donors are key to such acquisitions and important restoration projects. American donors are among the most generous, dating from the days of Nelson Rockefeller in the 1920s. Google recently financed and helped design a stunning, 11-room, 3-D virtual exhibit that now kicks off every tourist’s visit to Versailles.


Perhaps the biggest highlight of our visit was being able to climb scaffolding, one-by-one to the top of a room and witness a restoration project up close. Restorers were fixing the cracks and touching up the ceiling painting in the Salon d’Abondance. We were able to talk to the artists as they dabbed with their tiny brushes at the magnificent fresco.


The visit was topped off with a lovely buffet lunch overlooking the palace courtyard. There we were able to speak in a relaxed fashion with Ms. Saule, and other Versailles officials including President Catherine Pegard.


– Eleanor Beardsley