An Hour from Paris: the Beautiful and Tragic Château de Vaux le Vicomte

I headed to Vaux le Vicomte on a rainy Monday with my French host family, and if I were a Lonely Planet guide I would proclaim it to be, “The perfect day trip for those who tire of the crowds at Versailles and Giverny.” (Ahem, me.)

And while the château is opulently beautiful, its most interesting feature is its dark history.

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Nicolas Fouquet, minister of finance to Louis XIV, bought the château in 1658. He commissioned the legendary trio of architect Louis Le Vau, landscape architect André le Nôtre, and painter-decorator Charles Le Brun to carry out construction, and they spent four years meticulously building one of the most lavish countryside estates France had ever seen.

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To secure the necessary lands for the enormous gardens of Vaux-le-Vicomte, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages and then hired the 18,000 villagers to build the château.

Once the castle and gardens were finally completed, Fouquet hosted a grand soirée to show off his grand new home and gardens. Naturally, he invited his boss, Louis XIV.

Louis XIV, the Sun King, was a king known for his capricious jealousy. Once he laid eyes on the garden he was so overcome with envy that days later he imprisoned Fouquet for life, arresting him on the charge of “misappropriation of funds.” To add insult to injury, he then hired Le Vau, Le Brun and La Nôtre to begin a new project together – the château de Versailles!

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As Voltaire famously wrote, “At six in the evening on August 17, Fouquet was the king of France; at two in the morning he was nothing.” « Le 17 août, à 6 heures du soir, Fouquet était le roi de France ; à 2 heures du matin, il n’était plus rien. »

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And while the interior of the château is beautiful, the real treasure is the gardens. They are what inspired Versailles, after all.

I was kicking myself because I had only brought my 50mm camera lens, meaning I was unable to get a panoramic shot of what makes these gardens so magnificent- the optical illusion effect called anamorphosis abscondita that Le Nôtre so smartly employed. Luckily Wikipedia claims you can only notice the effect in person, but still.

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So what happened to the château in the end? After years of neglect, it was going to be demolished. But in the late 1800s a sugar baron purchased the estate and spent 30 years completely restoring it. The fifth generation of the same family looks after the castle today.

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When I was leaving the château something really bizarre happened- I stumbled upon a group of Buddhist monks dressed in yellow robes. While to most this would just feel like, well, stumbling upon a group of Buddhist monks, to me it felt like a symbol of my time in France coming to a close and the beginning of a new chapter in Southeast Asia. How’s that for poetic foreshadowing?

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Overall I really enjoyed the château. And you hear this Louie? I think the gardens are even better than Versailles. So there.

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Practical information: 

Château de Vaux le Vicomte

77950 Maincy, France

Tel : +33 (0)1.64.14.41.90 – Fax : +33 (0)1.60.69.90.85
chateau@vaux-le-vicomte.com

Open everyday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed December 25 and January 1. See more information here. Also the château is a pricey excursion at 16 euros per adult, but family, student and senior discounts are offered.

Also, the castle restaurant sells the world’s best salted butter caramel yogurt ever to grace the earth. Get some if you’re there. Yogurt au caramel au beurre salé. SCEA La Ferme du Manège 76640 Hattenville, Normandie. 02 35 96 71 23

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P.S. This is my first post in which I used Lightroom for photo-editing, which I got on a free one-month trial. The trial’s almost up so can you notice a difference or is it not worth purchasing? Merci!

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

18 thoughts on “An Hour from Paris: the Beautiful and Tragic Château de Vaux le Vicomte”

  1. Ashley, I’m still loving your pictures! They are really great! This post makes me want to go to this chateau!

  2. What an experience to see that outstanding chateau. It is so beautiful, so perfect, that it is hard to describe, and you were there, But you photos and your text take us there. Thank you.,

    Love,

    Gamma

  3. This chateau has really has an interesting history! I guess it just goes to show that you should never try an outshine a king – that has never been a good idea. I think it’s hard to tell whether you should purchase Lightroom, just because I can’t compare the pictures directly to their un-edited version. I don’t really think you need it as I’ve always enjoyed your pictures, but if you think you’re going to get a lot of use out of it than it won’t go wasted either! :)
    xx

    • Thanks for your feedback! I guess I feel better with the pictures I put through Lightroom so I’m thinking that’s worth the difference even if others can’t tell. We’ll see! :)

  4. Salted caramel yogurt? Mmm. This place looks gorgeous–I could spend all day wandering in those gardens! And yes, get Lightroom! Look out for steep discounts on LR4 now that LR5 is out. Try B&H photo.

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