Vaux-le-Vicomte, France - Review
The Lost Château
A minister of finance throws a lavish party for a
French king. As a result, he is thrown into prison
for life. It sounds like a scene inspired by a Dumas
novel, but in fact, the minister's life — coupled
with the author's liberal imagination — is
said to have inspired “The Man in the Iron
The minister: Nicolas Fouquet. The king: Louis XIV.
The crime: misappropriation of funds, although the
charges were trumped up. The real reason for Fouquet's
incarceration, or at least the straw that broke
the royal camel's back, was the king's
envy over the magnificent château where the
party was held.
the mid-1660s, Fouquet was riding high. Called into
service to rescue a bankrupt nation, he used his
personal fortune to guarantee loans and make sure
the bills were paid. When he wasn't attempting
to balance the books, he was working on a project
whose splendor would cause his downfall, inspire
the palace at Versailles and influence château
architecture throughout Europe.
was a poet as well as a man of numbers, and his
intention was to create a spectacular meeting place
for people who loved arts. Armed with money he inherited
from his father and first wife, he handpicked the
men who would design his dream: architect Louis
Le Vau, painter/interior designer Charles Le Brun
and landscape architect André Le Nôtre.
He gave them free rein, and five years later they
gave him a château that would revolutionize
of the three artists left a distinctive fingerprint
on the project. Veering away from typical château
architecture, Le Vau conceived elements such as
a several-story rotunda containing an Italian-style
salon instead of traditional galleries. And with
his brushstroke evident on virtually every wall
and ceiling panel, Le Brun transformed the interior
into a museum. But while the château is grandiose,
the landscaping is even more impressive. Five hectares
were cleared and the village of Vaux, two hamlets
and an old château razed so that Le Nôtre
could lay out the gardens and gravity-fed fountains
and waterfalls on an axis measuring almost two miles.
Fouquet was occupied overseeing the elaborate construction
of Vaux-le-Vicomte, his demise was in the works.
Cardinal Mazarin, the Chief Minister of France,
believed Fouquet a threat to his power and convinced
Louis XIV that Fouquet was misusing funds and plotting
against the throne. Desirous of absolute power,
the king was glad to have a reason to unseat the
influential Fouquet. He had already decided to throw
Fouquet into prison when he asked to see Vaux-le-Vicomte.
had heard rumors of the grumbling against him, but
he was foolish and paid no heed. Instead, on August
17, 1661, he threw a fête so fantastic it
put the king's Parisian events to shame. It
didn't help that the château greatly
exceeded the royal palace in luxury and originality.
Less than a month after the party, Fouquet was arrested.
The court condemned him to exile, but Louis XIV
did not think the punishment was harsh enough and
had the sentence changed to life imprisonment.
king had the château emptied of its valuables — tapestries,
statues and paintings. Not only did he appropriate
the château's furnishings, he commandeered
its creators. Le Vau, Le Brun and Le Nôtre
were requisitioned to craft a palace at Versailles.
Originally a modest hunting lodge built for Louis
XIII in 1624, it would soon become a stronghold
that would fulfill the king's personal agenda,
superceding Vaux-le-Vicomte and becoming the center
of power in France.
for the château itself, it was sequestered
for twelve years before being returned to Madame
Fouquet. Over the decades it was occupied by numerous
owners, and it was bequeathed to the nation during
the French Revolution to save it from destruction.
Fallen to disrepair, it was put up for auction in
the mid-19th century and purchased by Alfred Sommier.
Since that time the château has been masterfully
resurrected, along with the gardens, which took
fifty years to restore using drawings of the original
is now privately owned by Sommier's great-grandson,
Comte P. de VOGÜÉ, and is open to the
public. Its opulence is still awe-inspiring: the
gilding alone is worth a trip. On Friday and Saturday
nights in season, Candlelight Visits recreate the
ambience of the festivities held in 1661 in honor
of Louis XIV — two thousand candles illuminate the
house and gardens at dusk, classical music is played
in the garden and a Champagne bar is available.
In addition, on the second and last Saturdays of
each month, you can witness the fountains and waterfalls
fed by gravity from an underground water reserve.
While there, we recommend taking in the view of
the grounds from the top of the dome and visiting
the gift shop. Unlike typical shops at touristed
destinations, this one is quite tasteful, featuring
regional arts, crafts and produce. We also suggest
exploring the grounds; if you have only one day
to visit, renting a golf cart makes this manageable.
is located 55 kilometers southeast of Paris. You
may take the train from Gare de Lyon to Melun. From
Melun it is a six-kilometer taxi ride to the château.
77950 Maincy, France
(Closed mid-November through mid-March)
|LET THEM EAT CAKE
With sumptuous recipes collected from friends, family and staff of the Château Vaux-le-Vicomte in France, this richly compiled cookbook will have you ready to serve — as well as feel like — royalty.
(Updated 08/21/11 CT)