Sometimes even a king can’t have it all. That must have been how King Louis XIV felt when he was invited to his finance minister, Fouquet’s extravaganza at his private Chateau Vaux-Le Vicomte near the Fontainbleau forest. Talk about one-upsmanship, while the Chateau de Versailles was still in its tranformation stage from former hunting lodge to a palace befitting a ‘Sun King’, Fouquet was opening the doors of his Chateau Vaux Le Vicomte for housewarming party complete with fireworks, fountains and feasting.
Rather than enjoying an idyllic evening, what else could the King of France feel except envy – and the uncomfortable suspicion that Fouquet had paid for his mansion and the huge party out of the public coffers? Even though, no fast and firm proof that the finance minister had embezzled state funds, that didn’t stop King Louis XIV from having Fouquet arrested before he even had sufficient time to enjoy his estate. To this day, the question remains as to whether another wiley minister Colbert may have manuevered to have Fouquet arrested and pushed aside for his own access to the king.
Chateau Vaux-Le-Vicomte vs. Versailles
If you only have a short time in Paris and you must choose between these two splendid chateaux, I can only say, ‘Good luck’ in making your decision, but if you have an opportunity to visit both, start first with the Chateau Vaux-Le Vicomte to get an inkling of how this ‘bijou’ inspired Louis XIV for his own ‘grand projet’. He literally snatched Fouquet’s gardener – Andre LeNotre and his architect Louis Le Vau and his decorator Charles Le Brun.
Whereas visitors are sometimes overwhelmed by Versailles, Vaux-le-Vicomte is elegant without overkill. In the spring, Le Notre’s one-mile long garden is brightened with 40,000 tulips. Like Versailles, the gardens are classic ‘jardins a la francaise’ with reflecting ponds and a hidden grotto.
Once you’ve visited the ‘King’s Bedchamber’ and the Salon des Muses and viewed Le Brun’s ceiling paintings, you may have trouble deciding whether King Louis really was able to demand the same artistry from Le Brun – as what you’ll find at Vaux-Le Vicomte. Call me superstitious or supersensitive, but I really believe that Fouquet’s spirit remains in the chateau, or if not his spirit, certainly the spirit of those who have continued to cherish this estate.
Whereas Versailles was a political statement, and showpiece for France, Vaux-le-Vicomte, was an individual’s dream home. The fact that Fouquet never really had much of chance to live his dream is all the more reason to go there and wander through the gardens that he may have longed for while in prison.
One of the happy endings regarding Vaux-Le-Vicomte is that there remains a present-day link with the past. After tumultous decades, the chateau managed to narrowly survive the Revolution. It survived occupation by Russian and Bavarian troops in 1814, and subsequent years of neglect. Then, in 1875, the property was bought by Alfred Sommier. The happy ending to this story is that the chateau continues to have the careful attention and love that every great building needs in this era, thanks to Sommier’s great-grandson, Comte Patrice de Vogue.
One of the best times to visit the Chateau Vaux-Le-Vicomte is during an evening visit by candlelight. Candlelight Evenings are held every Saturday night from 8 pm to midnight from May through mid-October.
Domaine de Vaux-le-vicomte
Directions (by car): By car : 55 km by road, 45 minutes.
Take the A6 or A4 and follow direction A5 (Troyes). Exit àt the first toll of the A5 and then follow the Vaux le Vicomte signs.
On GPS, enter first the city of Maincy and then find Vaux le Vicomte.
By car : 55 km by road, 45 minutes.
Both Cityrama and Paris Vision offer half-day trips to Fontainbleau and Vaux-Le-Vicomte.
By train: Gare de Lyon, Paris to Melun. From Melun, take the Chateau shuttle bus.
From March 15th to November 9th from 10.00 am to 06.00 pm, last admission at 5.30 pm
The estate will be closed from November 10th to December 19th, 2008.
“Vaux le Vicomte celebrates Christmas”: Christmas decors and illuminations at the château and in the gardens. Open everyday from december 20th 2008 to January 4th 2009 from 11a.m. to 6:30p.m.
( closed on Décember 25th 2008 and January 1st 2009).
Visits for Kids
At Vaux Le Vicomte, kids can actually dress up in costumes of the era to get the total experience. This sounds like fun for parents too!