Leaving the RER C, adorned with stickers reproducing the Hall of Mirrors, you already have to make your way between travelers queuing for a ticket and those who hesitate in front of the billboards.

“It was very calm until last month and then we had a significant increase in the number of tourists, mainly foreigners. The trains are much more crowded, we were surprised”, says Alain *, an SNCF agent in charge of the framing in the station.

A few steps outside are enough to understand where this influx of passengers is coming from: higher up the avenue de Sceaux, a crowd of visitors leaves the Palace of Versailles. The golden gates should close in about an hour.

“It was wonderful, the best day of our stay in France!” exclaims Alessandra, who came from São Paulo with her companion for two weeks. When a street vendor approaches to offer her some Eiffel Tower-shaped key rings, she dismisses him with a smile, showing her paper bags with the effigy of the castle.

Street vendors have gradually returned in recent weeks with their trinkets, along with the buses full of tourists, who had completely disappeared from the castle forecourt.

“Tourism in Versailles in the summer is a bit like spring: it blooms again. But there, it is particularly sensitive after two years of scarcity”, assures AFP the various right mayor of Versailles, François of Mazieres.

In 2020 and 2021, the castle had lost around three-quarters of its visitors due to the pandemic.

Since the beginning of 2022, the castle has observed “a gradual recovery in foreign tourism”.

However, while attendance picked up in the first few months, it remains nearly twice as low as the same period in 2019.

– Asians still absent –

In a souvenir shop a few meters from the castle, the saleswomen make a bitter observation. “We had a few people for Easter, but since then it’s been very quiet,” says Catherine, who is busy in the empty store. “The bulk of our clientele was Asians and we hardly see them anymore,” she continues.

Chinese, Hong Kongers and Taiwanese were the third most frequent tourist group at the castle in 2019 and accounted for 13% of its attendance. But due in particular to strict Covid policies and confinements in China, they did not return. They are even so few currently that they are not counted in the statistics provided to AFP by the Palace of Versailles for the start of 2022.

“It is essential that the public return permanently,” assures a spokesperson for the castle to AFP.

The mayor of Versailles is more optimistic: for him, the attendance figures for the castle at the start of the year are marred by the absence of tourists in January and February, before the lifting of health restrictions. But “since March, it’s been a usual cadence on sunny days,” says Mr. de Mazières.

The absence of Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese tourists does not worry the mayor either. “They usually arrive by bus with tour operators who always take them to the same two restaurants, so it’s tourism that brings less to the city,” he says.

François de Mazières is now focusing more on new tourism, which no longer revolves solely around the castle. In particular, he hopes to attract people through cultural events such as the Architecture Biennale, created in 2019 and relaunched this week, or Mois Molière, a theater and music festival in June.

For its part, the castle intends to win back its customers, by opening new rooms unknown to the general public and by strengthening outdoor shows.

*the first name has been changed at the request of the official



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