At less than an hour South East of Paris lies the Chateau of Vaux Le Vicomte. The dream of Nicolas Fouquet who was Louis X1V Finance Minister in the 17th century along with inspiration from Le Vau, Le Brun and Le Notre came to fruition with this Chateau which today is the largest privately owned house in France. It nestles amidst 33 acres of French style gardens, adorned with fountains, waterfalls and statues, watched over by an impressive Dome that can be ascended to offer un-paralleled views of the entire estate.
A delightful adventure offers the opportunity to unravel the medieval mysteries of the Court of the Sun King , assisted by animated life-style figures, you can discover what befell Fouquet, his brilliance unearthing jealousy in his King, and the role the Musketeers had in his downfall from grace.
A Golf Cart Drive around the gardens is a sublime and exciting way to admire the first ever style French gardens(the inspiration for Versailles came from here). The Round Pool, The Skillet Canal with its Grottos flanked by two river gods, Tiber and Anqueuil, to the gilt lead statue of Hercules. Hit the brakes and admire the reflection of the entire chateau in the Great Water Mirror even though it is 400 metres away. Brilliance in perpetual evidence. A visit to the carriage museum which was owned by Fouquet has an exhibition of old-horse drawn vehicles, which are brought to life with horses, coachmen and passengers.
As dusk settles 2,000 candles start flickering to life recreating the atmosphere of the 17th August 1661, a ‘fete’ in honour of the King and his court. The perfect time to savour a glass of Henriot champagne on the terrace, at a very reasonable E10 before taking a seat at the Restaurant les Charmilles for dinner ‘al fresco’ .
Chef Laurent Asset’s menu with it’s various formule ranging from 30E for and Entrée+Plat to 45E for a coupe de Champagne, Entrée, Plat, Dessert, and un Verre du Vin is exquisite.
Choose from Entrees of Terrine of Foie Gras aux deux Asperges, Salade de Saint Jacques et Coques au Pampelmousse, Les Plats of Canon D’Agneau, Pave d’Espadon and Pennes a la Crème de Truffes Blanches with Homard Flambees, and to tickle that sweet tastebuds, and Entremet Chocolat Framboise, and a selection of Glaces et Sorbets. There is also a menu Enfant to keep the little ones happy.
The wine list is well thought out with the most expensive a superb Saint Emilion Chateau Bellevue Figeac 2008 at E36.00, at the other end a Rose de Provence cave de Saint Tropez 2009 at E16.00.
The atmosphere is relaxed, and much laughter abounds in-between savouring the delectable dishes.
After coffee take a stroll to walk off the calories up to the Chateau itself, most of the rooms are still lit by candlight so you can really feel what it was like in the 17th Century. There are audioguides available in seven languages or you can organise you own Tour Guide(must be booked in advance) Allow about 90 minutes, giving you time to stop and watch and listen to the animated displays, so lifelike ,you can almost feel their eyes watching you. A visit to the jail in the cellar almost smells genuine, and round into the kitchens with its great displays of pans and utensils used to create the amazing feasts that were held on many occasions.
After descending and ascending the numerous stairs and passageways, weary legs will appreciate the chance to sit down on the Chateau steps just to admire the full length of the gardens lit so hauntingly by the sparkling candles, it truly is a beautiful and thought provoking experience. Suddenly at 11pm the sky explodes in a riot of fireworks, just as it did on that August evening in the 17th century. The blazing rockets illuminating the sky to gasps of amazement.
Feel your star come to life, Vaux Le Vicomte was the setting for major films like Moliere, Marie Antoinette, Jean de la Fontaine, The Man with the Iron Mask and Moonraker, as the last firework spirals away.
Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte
Tel: + 33 (0) 1 64 1441 92
Candlelight Evenings: Every Saturday from 7 May to 8 October, Last admission 23h.
Restaurant Les Charmilles: Three sittings, tables must be reserved in advance.
Transport direction by rail, car, and bus.