© F. Milauchau
Candlelight Visits at Vaux-le-Vicomte
June 12, 2012
June marks the start of one of summertime’s loveliest weekend events, the candlelight soirées at the château of Vaux-le-Vicomte. Located 35 miles southeast of Paris, Vaux-le-Vicomte is the château that inspired Versailles. It was built by Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s ambitious finance minister. A man of exquisite taste and apparently limitless funds, Fouquet brought together three brilliant artists: architect Louis Le Vau, painter/decorator Charles Le Brun, and landscape designer André Le Nôtre, who completed his jewel of a château in 1661. To celebrate, Fouquet invited the court from Fontainebleau for an extraordinary day of feasting and costly entertainment.
No one had ever seen a house-warming party like it. The famous chef François Vatel surpassed himself on the dinner, which was served to the king’s table on solid gold plate. Entertainment in the gardens included concerts, fountains, water jousts on the Grand Canal, and a comédie-ballet by Molière. As the dazzled guests climbed into their carriages long after midnight to return to Fontainebleau, fireworks exploded above their heads in a brilliant finale.
But the king was not amused. Louis, furious at being upstaged by one of his subjects, had long suspected him of misuse of public funds. He took the party as proof. Several weeks later, Fouquet was arrested, convicted of embezzlement, and imprisoned in the fortress of Pignerol, high in the French Alps. His furniture, tapestries, statues and paintings were confiscated and sent to Versailles, and the talent that had produced Vaux was hired to work on the king’s new showplace. Fouquet remained in prison for nineteen years, until his death in 1680.
Vaux-le-Vicomte still dazzles visitors today. The privately owned château, circled by a moat, is a storybook castle come to life. Restored and fully furnished with period furnishings, the interior retains much of Le Brun’s decoration. If you know Versailles, you’ll recognize many features. The beautifully detailed woodwork and remarkable ceiling paintings of the rooms, especially those in the Chambre des Muses, recall the grands appartements of the larger palace. But where Versailles is intentionally overwhelming, Vaux-le-Vicomte, while no less splendid, is on a more human scale, and much more beautiful.
And on Saturday evenings May through October you can see the domain as Fouquet’s guests would have, with the château and gardens sparkling in the light of thousands of candles. After dining on the terrace and touring the softly glowing rooms, you can recline on a long chair in the garden, admiring the candlelit castle and enjoying the classical music that soars around you. It’s pure magic.
Vaux-le-Vicomte Daytime hours: 10 am–6 pm. Candlelight visits: May 5 to Oct 6, 8 pm to midnight. The domain’s two restaurants serve lunch daily and dinner on the evenings of candlelight visits.
New this year: Fireworks the first and third Saturdays of the month, about 10:30 pm, except on July 14
The most convenient way to get to Vaux is by car. For those without wheels, the SNCF train from the Gare de Lyon to Melun connects to a shuttlebus in high season; at other times taxis are available at the station in Melun. More information on the website.
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