Nestled in the countryside near the town of Melun, Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte is located about one hour away from Paris by car. A recent article I wrote for the Chicago Tribune provides an overview of the historic 17th century chateau built by French finance minister Nicholas Fouquet, and explains why it makes for a perfect daylong excursion for tourists who wish to immerse themselves in French history and culture.
Here are some photographs taken during our visit that illustrate why Vaux le Vicomte, which took 20 years to build, has been so popular with both residents and tourists since it first opened to the public in 1968. The antithesis to a stuffy museum, it’s a living piece of history to be experienced and enjoyed.
1) A short car or taxi drive from Paris
Tourists to most European capitals tire of crowds and long lines (especially in the heat of summer) so driving through the countryside to a park-like setting can be restorative.
Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte is more intimate than other great chateaux like Versaille. “It’s not so crowded that visitors have to push and jostle for space,” says tour guide Balwinder Prabhakar.
The chateau has been owned by the same family for five generations (and still houses some family members).
2) The first formal French garden
One of the most striking and historically significant elements of the property is its extraordinary landscape design. Landscape architect Andre Le Notre was key to the design of this project, which includes the first formal French garden with its spectacular symmetry. From every angle and perspective visitors are able to enjoy another aspect of its beauty that only reveals itself as they stroll along its paths.
3) Transparency of the chateau
Architect Louis Le Vau designed the stately chateau so the approaching visitor could see directly through its arched doors into the breathtaking gardens. Such a design reinforced the harmony between the building and its natural setting.
4) The first formal dining room
Another “first” is that of what may have been the first formal dining room or “salle du buffet.” Here and throughout the home, visitors can enjoy the paintings, sculptures, furnishings and tapestries of the period. Charles Le Brun was the artist and decorator responsible for the interior design of the property.
A spectacular video display (see our YouTube link at the end of this post re-enacts the lavish reception for the King that was held at the property in 1661.
4) A place to relax
Visits are self-paced. You can tour the inside of the residence with an audio guide, stroll the gardens or even may be tempted to take a nap in the sun.
5) Pause at the champagne bar
The beautiful setting, which also houses two restaurants, invites visitors to sit down and enjoy it with a glass of French champagne.
6) The dome
A trip up the spiral staircase inside the dome offers a unique aerial view of the property.
7) Electric golf carts
Mobility impaired or have teens along on the trip? The grounds are immense. Surrounded by a moat, this is the largest public property in France so even walking from one end to the other can take at least 20 minutes. Zipping around on an electric golf cart can be fun and easier on the feet.
8) Period costumes for kids
Young children can don period costumes and tour the property with a comedian.
9) Saturday night fireworks
During summers, guests can extend their stay and participate in magical candlelight dinners followed by a fireworks display. More than 2000 candles light up the evening sky. These celebrations “re-live” the lavish reception held here for Louis XIV in August 1661 shortly before Fouquet was arrested and brought to trial for embezzlement.
10) On location
More than 70 films were filmed on location at Vaux le Vicomte, including The Man in the Iron Mask with Leonardo DiCaprio. We found this whimsical creature in a visit to the cellar. When you return home, it’s likely that you’ll be able to revisit the chateau on Netflix.
See a YouTube Video of the re-enactment of the lavish party thrown by Nicholas Fouquet:
IF YOU GO
For more information and reservations, see Vaux le Vicomte
In the Chicago Tribune on September 30, 2014
Also on More Time To Travel: