Château Vaux-le-Vicomte was always high on my castle-to-see bucket list with its fascinating history and the building so grand that it made jealous king Luis XIV himself. One hour away drive from Paris, the manor is a perfect place for visit on a long summer day.
Access: The Château is a one hour drive from Paris by car. You can also opt for public transport and get a line R from Gare de Lyon to Melun and take bus 1 from Place de l’Ermitage. Get off on the 3rd stop and then have a relatively short walk (25 minutes on foot) to the castle. The path is pleasant and leads through some fields and small forest. If you opt for public transport, take comfortable shoes since the path is rather rural style. Alternatively, you can take official shuttle from Paris or nearby Melun, the information is explained well on the castle’s website (check here). However, this option is the priciest.
The history of the castle is rather dramatic, the domain being a reason to a spectacular downfall of its owner–Nicolas Fouquet. In 1641 Fouquet acquired the old château of Vaux and the land adjoining it. He thus became the “Sire Vicomte of the lands of Vaux and Melun” with the aim of establishing his principal place of residence there, a stately manor displaying his wealth and taste and devoted to courtly pastimes.
In 1653 Fouquet became a Superintendent of Finances (today we would call him a minister of finance) and was one of the great patrons of his century, financing renowned artists in exchange of flattering works dedicated to him.
Within twenty years from purchasing the property, Fouquet had transformed the estate into a masterpiece, the château and gardens are among the most beautiful in France. Fouquet involved a team of brilliant artists and artisans who revolutionized the design of great houses across Europe. The sad downfall of the estate started after Fouquet organized a lavish reception to host King Luis XIV. Shortly after, Fouquet became a victim of jealous courtiers and became arrested on Luis XIV’s orders and sentenced to life imprisonment. In result, the manor was closed and the interior seized by the angry king. It took many years for the wife of Fouquet and her son to recover the castle in which they lived until Fouquet’s son death. Madame Fouquet was forced to sell the property.
The visionary designers who transformed the manor into world class architectural masterpiece were Louis le Vau, Charles le Brun and André Le Nôtre. Louis le Vau was an architect responsible for many urban developments in Paris and later hired by Luis XIV to shape Château Versailles. Another genius mind, Charles le Brun, supervised decoration of Vaux-le-Vicomte. Later on, le Brun served Luis XIV and responsible for decorating Versailles. He was also a Director of the Manufacture de Gobelins and Chancellor of the French Academy of Arts. André Le Nôtre designed what we call now, a signature French gardens and this particular project opened him the doors for many other grand commissions, the most famous one came from Luis XIV himself– Château Versailles gardens which are the gardener’s biggest achievement.
As a visitor of the castle you can visit two floors of the manor, the upper floor with private apartments and lower floor with state apartments. In the price of the ticket you have an audioguide included which explains you the complicated story of Fouquet family. You can choose between few languages, so there is no worry if you don’t understand French. At the end you can also see the kitchens and wine cellar in the basement, this part is without an audioguide.
The visit continues to the lower floor with official apartments with a representational role.
When Luis XIV visited Vaux on the 17th of August 1661, he saw the Grand Salon the same way as it is today. The king’s delegation was amazed by the exquisite architecture and sculptured plasterwork, the room all in white. The painted decor that le Brun has designed for the walls and ceiling has not been yet done. Three weeks after the king’s visit Fouquet was arrested and the planned works have never started.
When you’re done with the castle interior, it’s time to enjoy spectacular gardens designed by Le Nôtre’s whose signature style are gardens with geometric plants, long vistas and many levels, the gardens are decorated with numerous elaborate fountains and statues along the alleys. The area is vast so count for a 2-hour walk to see various landscapes (in some parts the garden is less manicured and is more English style with nature growing much wilder), some waterfalls and ponds at least for me were quite unexpected and those surprises made me find the gardens even more charming. If you don’t want to walk much you can rent a small electric car and drive through the alleys. On the side of the castle you will find small refreshment stands were you can have a drink and small snack.
If you choose the public transport back, you will have a very nice way through the fields to get back to the bus which takes you to Melun, a perfect example that the design of nature is just as beautiful 😉