Just 35 miles southeast of Paris, the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a masterpiece of 17th century architecture and garden design, itself the original model for the Palace of Versailles. The story has gone down as legend; Finance Minister Nicholas Fouquet threw a house-warming party in 1661 that was so opulent, so extravagant, so dazzling, that King Louis XIV—the guest of honor—flew into a jealous rage and had Fouquet jailed for embezzlement. The Sun King then hired Fouquet’s dream team (architect Louis Le Vau, painter Charles Le Brun, and landscape architect André Le Nôtre) to build something even more impressive. And so the Palace of Versailles was born.
Privately owned by the de Vogüé family, the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte has been painstakingly restored to its original splendor (talk about a labor of love). Here, the 17th century comes to life; you can immerse yourself in the ambiance and regal traditions of another age. The beauty of Vaux-le-Vicomte is that it’s a human-sized castle without the crowds you’ll find at Versailles, making for a lovely (and peaceful) visitor experience. What’s more, a yearly calendar of fun events means that there’s always something new to discover—from Easter Egg Hunts and the Salon du Chocolat to the summertime Candlelight Visits and 17th century costume party.
Christmas is particularly magical at the chateau. The path to the entrance is lined with snow-dusted pine trees, and classical choir music echoes from the front door. Each of the stately salons, some adorned with magnificent frescoes by Le Brun, are illuminated with Christmas trees and decorations. In the Grand Salon, a towering tree—a whopping eight meters high and covered in more than 5,000 ornaments—almost reaches the ceiling. At the base of the tree, children are given a small gift.
The smell of nutmeg and spices floats through the air, and fires crackle in the majestic fireplaces. You can even imagine the merry feasting of yesteryear as you gape at the dining table, dressed to the nines with Christmas porcelain and tree-shaped towers of macarons. At dusk, the chateau’s façade is illuminated with lights, and the garden boxwoods twinkle in red and green. This year, to the delight of young and old alike, a theatre troupe performs Pinocchio. For a glimpse of Noël at the chateau, don’t miss the video on the official website.
Practical Information: Open December 14th and 15th, and then from December 21, 2013 – January 5, 2014 from 10:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Last admission at 5:45 p.m. Closed on December 25th and January 1st. Chateau entrance is 14 euros; the combined ticket with the theatre performace is 22 euros.
Access to the chateau is by car, train, or bus. There are direct trains from Paris Gare de Lyon to Melun every 30 minutes, and the train time is 30 minutes. In Melun, take a taxi the six kilometres to the chateau, or jump on the shuttle bus on weekends and public holidays from March 30-November 11. Roundtrip bus transportation from the city center of Paris is also available via Cityrama-Parisvision.