The Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte lies in the lush countryside of Maincy, department Seine et Marne, Ile de France. The famous tapestry makers Gobelins were once based here before being ordered to set up shop in Paris by Louis XIV. They remain in Paris, creating their extraordinary designs to this day. They were not alone in being ordered to Paris.
The Chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte
The Chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte was commissioned by Louis XIV’s finance Minister Nicholas Fouquet. He lavished money on the design, employing the best artisans of the day. It took 20 years to build and Fouquet intended it to be good enough to house a King and invited Louis XIV to stay when it was complete. The deadline was 17 August 1661 but delays meant it wasn’t quiet finished on the day. Nevertheless Fouquet and his team prepared to receive their King and hastily readied the chateau.
However, the painters who had put away their brushes out of sight of the party guess never returned. Some of the walls of Vaux le Vicomte remain unpainted (you’ll see this in the apartment of the King’s chamber). There are plain plaster cherubs and nudes in some rooms lacking the colour of the finished pieces in other rooms. Two major ceilings have temporary paintings, added in 1875 to cover their bareness. Some statues are not quite as elegant as others, as you stand with your back to the Chateau looking at the grand entrance gate lined with statues, you’ll see some have rather square heads, the sculptor hadn’t finished chipping them out.
The King arrived but he didn’t stay as intended. Jealous of the beauty of the chateau, listening to the sly whispers of his advisors who said Fouquet must have pilfered the royal coffers to pay for it, he left in a fit of pique never to return. Two weeks later Fouquet was arrested and the King ordered that the fabulous furnishing, tapestries and anything that could be moved be brought to Paris, he even took the orange trees in pots from the garden. The chateau fell into neglect, unloved, unfinished and unappreciated.
In 1875 the chateau was bought by the de Voguë family. Their descendants live in it still, the largest privately owned home in France.
Read more about the history of Vaux-le-Vicomte
What to see at Vaux-le-Vicomte
The de Voguë family have over the past 150 years and more, devoted themselves to restoring and maintaining the chateau, forging ties with universities and schools, they aim to make sure Vaux le Vicomte’s legacy is protected for future generations to enjoy. They bought furniture and ornaments of the right period, piece by piece and returned the garden to its original design.
Despite its grandeur and captivating loveliness, this place is nevertheless still a home. Alexander de Voguë, son of the Count and Countess who live there and are often spotted wandering around, recalls playing in the rooms as a child, hurrying to hide his toys behind the curtains before chateau visitors arrived. These days his parents live in a wing of the chateau, and, with 300,000 visitors a year things are run more professionally.
Vaux le Vicomte today retains an air of the past. In winter fires are lit to warm the rooms, at Christmas this stunning palace comes alive and, by the way the gift shop is perfect for finding a gift to impress, the countess personally chooses the merchandise, how’s that for a wow factor present!
Look out for squirrels, a nod to the past and Fouquet. His name means squirrel in French and he had the furry red creature depicted in paintings on the walls, ceilings and shutters over the grand windows. Check out the squirrel tapestry in the gorgeous library, it looks out of place and it is. The tapestry is original and had a squirrel centre but Fouquet’s enemies cut it out. A de Vogue family member had a replacement created.
Rent a costume from 3 euros for kids and adults and make like a king or queen.
Go on a Saturday night in summer months and enjoy the spellbinding sight of 2000 candles in the gardens and some of the rooms – it really makes the place feel special, and sends shivers down your spine at the thought that this is how it would have looked that fateful night in 1661.
Out in the gardens you can’t help but be awed by the cleverness of Le Notre’s design. Gardener Patrick boug?? explains that everything was designed for perspective. Hidden canals, topiary designs that look different from the top of the steps than they do from the bottom of the steps. There are follies, statues, fountains, ornamental planting, even a waterfall. The gardens are exquisite and if you don’t want to miss anything, you can rent a buggy to get round it all, and it’s also a lot of fun.
As you stand in the garden looking back at the chateau with its wedding cake style dome, its marvellous symmetry you can understand that the compelling splendour of this place would drive a king insane with jealousy – it really is a breath-takingly beautiful chateau.
Take a virtual visit to the Chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte
Take a stroll though the gorgeously furnished rooms and ogle the tapestries and paintings up close. Then head outside to discover the fabulous gardens. Take your free virtual visit to Vaux-le-Vicomte with artsandculture.google.com/vauxlevicomte Scroll to the bottom of the link and click “explore”…
How to get to there
It’s a fairly easy visit from Paris. From Gare de l’Est, take a train to Verneuil l’Etang and there is a shuttle bus service to and from the station. (Note: do check return times for the train, especially on weekends)
The Chateau is open daily (including bank holidays) from April 1 to November 2, 2016 (but check the website in case of exceptional closings) and weekends all year round.
There is a restaurant on site as well as picnic areas and on Saturday nights a bar and restaurant are available for candlelit soirees – Champagne and macarons in the gardens of this fabulous palace – yes please!