Vaux-le-Vicomte, 45km from Paris in Seine-et-Marne, is one of the most important privately-owned châteaux in France. It is the home of the De Vogüé family, who opened it to the public in 1968 as a way of funding its upkeep – and to share with us the uniquely elegant building and resplendent 1,235 acres of gardens, all designed by the power team of the most celebrated artists of the 17th century: architect Le Vau, landscaper Le Nôtre and painter Le Brun, who then all went on to design Versailles.
The château bears witness to a long and tumultuous history. Its creator, Nicolas Fouquet, was superintendent of finances under King Louis XIV and an enthusiastic patron of the arts. He surrounded himself with the best painters, sculptors, musicians, and writers. During a fateful celebration in honour of the king, in 1661, the lavish hospitality impressed the royal entourage so much that they declared the fête the best they had ever attended.
Outshining the king wasn’t the best policy. Voltaire wrote, “On August 17, at 6 in the evening, Fouquet was King of France, at 2 in the morning, he was nobody.” Whether or not jealousy played a part in what Fouquet was made to endure is debatable, but he was accused of malversation and thrown in prison during a harrowing 10-year trial.
The team at VLV is keeping busy enhancing the visitor experience. At a new welcome centre, an introductory film tells the history of the château and your visit can be tailored according to the time you have available. Don’t miss the magical candlelit evenings when 2,000 twinkling candles light up the home and gardens, or the costumed grand siècle mid-summer picnic, or the Christmas events.
TIP: A new shuttle bus is available from the train station, making this a great day trip from Paris. There’s also an excursion combining Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte and Fontainebleau, less than 30 minutes away. For more information, visit www.vaux-le-vicomte.com
From France Today magazine