Friday, 27 July 2012

Vaux Le Vicomte

This man knew how to throw a party.

Nicolas Fouquet, the Minister of Finance under Louis IV. He built a chateau far grander than anything France had ever seen at the time, hiring the best of the best to landscape and decorate. He threw a great party to celebrate his new home and his patronage of the arts and invited everyone. It was an extravagant affair. It ended up being too extravagant; a little too impressive.

The King promptly had him arrested for embezzlement (by none other than D'Artangnan!) and Fouquet spent the rest of his life in prison. The job paid well, but it was obvious that he was not entirely honest with the country's finances and it seemed like a great deal of them went to pad his personal project. The King stole off with Fouquet's landscape artist, architect and interior decorator to build his palace of Versailles, and confiscated all the furniture to cushy up his new home.


Now you can go and stomp around the gardens and check out the grand Vaux Le Vicomte Chateau. It's an hour on the RER or 30 minutes on the train to Melun, and then a shuttle bus will take you to the Chateau. It's still quite impressive. They were working on the dome where we were there, which I found to be a bit of a killjoy when it came to the photogenics. Imagine a great dome instead of the scaffold.

There has been an effort to restore the grandiose furnishings, which is nice but it's kind of stuffy. You can rent costumes at the front desk if you wish to do the whole chateau tour in grand musketeer style, or perhaps as the wench of the week.

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A lot of the original artwork is now in the Louvre. It was all very grand.

But the gardens, ooooh the gardens.


They were lovely, and filled with optical illusions. What looks like a flat stretch of landscape is actually many levels of landscaping that concealed surprises for you to discover as you walk away from the Chateau.

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Grottos and enormous fountains and a huge canal all appear as you walk. It's really amazing. We did see a couple people take tumbles into the hedgerows that padded drop-offs, so it's pretty important to not get too wrapped up in the romance of the place.

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In the spirt of Fouquet, there was a Champagne bar set up on one of the grand staircases. You could lounge in comfy chairs and watch the sun set with your fizzy while they piped in period-appropriate chamber music.

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A lot of the local Chateaus do special events on summer weekends. As the sun set, thousands of candles were lit in the Chateau and also in the gardens.

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It made for a lovely backdrop for a late garden stroll and to the really delayed firework show we were promised. The trains here don't run all night, y'all.

If you are going to miss the last train to Paris, you might as well do it with 60 other people who were also busy watching fireworks. As we stood in mutual dismay and confusion at the train station that seemed to be closed for the night, a hero of sorts emerged.


In a display of decision making the likes of the MTA have never seen, this night watchman guy with his spastic dog made some phone calls and within 10 minutes, all 60 of us were on coach buses on our way back to Paris. Amazing. It leads me to believe that this wasn't the first time the fireworks ran late but everyone was appreciative that we didn't have to spend the night fighting over who gets to sleep on the benches in front of the station. Probably not the easiest Chateau to get to and from, but definitely worth the visit if the you have the inclination.

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