France Travel Planner by Tom Brosnahan & Jane Fisher   Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, France
A small gem outside of Paris, Vaux-le-Vicomte inspired the Château de Versailles.

  Vaux-le-Vicomte, France
Ornate chandelier, Vaux-le-




A visit to the beautiful Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, built in 1661, makes a nice excursion from Paris. Unlike Versailles and some of the other well-known châteaux, Vaux-le-Vicomte tends to be uncrowded, which adds to its charm.

Built by Nicolas Fouquet, Superintendent of Finances under the young King Louis XIV, the château represented exciting new ideas in architecture and design. Designed by the architect Louis Le Vau, painter Charles Le Brun, and landscape gardener André Le Nôtre, the sumptuous estate outshone other châteaux and buildings.

And therein was the problem. Fouquet, perhaps a bit naively, invited King Louis XIV to Vaux-le-Vicomte. The story has it that the young king was so jealous of the beautiful château that he refused to even spend the night, returning directly to nearby Fontainebleau.

Shortly thereafter, Louis XIV had Fouquet arrested on trumped-up charges of embezzling. Fouquet lived the rest of his life in prison, dying there in 1680, never able to enjoy (or fully finish) his beautiful château.

Louis XIV then hired the same team—architect Le Vau, painter Le Brun, and landscaper Le Nôtre—to build him an even bigger and more luxurious château. The result? The Château de Versailles.

A visit to Vaux-le-Vicomte allows you to see the beautiful design and decor (lots of gold and stucco cherubs), as well as a lovely collection of tapestries, furniture, and works of art that have been amassed over the centuries. Louis XIV confiscated many of the original furnishings, and others were destroyed or sold after Fouquet's arrest.

Ironically, one of the main rooms on the visit is the beautiful bedroom of the king, which was never used by the king. Also impressive is the large oval hall, the only one in France, which is 18 meters/59 feet long and the same in height. The ceiling is unfinished, as it had not been completed when Fouquet was arrested.

You will also visit the large kitchen, where it's easy to imagine banquets being prepared. Although some credit chef François Vatel as having invented crème chantilly (whipped cream) at Vaux-le-Vicomte, others say it was after he went to the Château de Chantilly, and still others say it's even older. Whatever the story, they ate well at Vaux-le-Vicomte. The château is known for having one of the first separate dining rooms in a château, as well as a separate room for bathing.

And of course the gardens and fountains are delightful. The château was all built new, and André Le Nôtre had the opportunity to develop a comprehensive design for the gardens. He founded a new style that defined French formal gardens from then on. The gardens were designed to look beautiful year round, so they depend more on geometric shapes and designs, rather than flowers. Fountains and statues complement the greenery.

The gardens are quite extensive (500 hectares/1235 acres), and if you don't feel like walking you can rent a golf cart to visit the estate. If you're feeling ambitious, you can walk to the Hercules statue, high up behind the château, to get a broad overview of the estate.

There are a couple of restaurants on the property: the Restaurant L'Écureuil (the squirrel, symbol of the Fouquet family) is in the former stable (along with the gift shop). The Kiosk, in the gardens, offers light refreshments in season.

The château offers a number of special exhibitions and events. It is known for its beautiful and lavish Christmas decorations, and many people like visiting then. They also host an Easter egg hunt and a chocolate weekend, as well as summer evenings of candlelight and music. The château also rents costumes for children so they can really experience castle life. And, should you be planning a wedding or large event, you can even do a private rental!

After the death of Nicolas Fouquet, his wife sold the château, and over the years it had several owners. In 1875 Alfred Sommier bought it at auction and undertook the significant renovations that allow us to enjoy it today. It is still owned and managed by his descendants. Opened to the public in 1968, it is now managed by 5th generation descendants of M Sommier.

One of the reasons that Vaux-le-Vicomte tends to be delightfully uncrowded is that it is somewhat difficult to get to. Here are some travel options.

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

Château de Versailles

Château de Fontainebleau

Excursions from Paris

Châteaux of the Loire

Where to Go in France

Special Vacations in France




Vaux-le-Vicomte, France

Above, The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, seen from the gardens.

Below, Some of the many cherubs and gold decor in the château.

Cherubs, Vaux-le-Vicomte, France

Vaux-le-Vicomte, France
Front view of Vaux-le-Vicomte and its moat.


FTP on Facebook    
Pinterest    Twitter