The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château located in Maincy, near Melun, 55 km southeast of Paris in the Seine-et-Marne department of France.
History of Vaux-le-Vicomte
The original building was purchased as a small and not extraordinary chateau in 1641 by Nicholas Fouquet, a member of the French parliament.
Fouquet was a man of grand ambition and determination, he worked his way up to Superintendent of Finances and Minister of Economy for Louis XIV and as his standing grew so did his largesse. He was an avid patron of the arts and generous to those he employed. The small chateau inspired Fouquet’s grand ambitions and he commissioned the most famous designers of the time. Landscape gardener André Le Nôtre, the architect Louis Le Vau and painter-decorator Charles Le Brun were employed to renovate the estate and gardens.
The elaborate renovation plan was on a truly grand scale involving the purchase and destruction of three villages close by to make room for the gardens and more buildings, even rivers were diverted to suit the plans. The villagers were employed by Fouquet to work on the chateau which had a work force of 18,000 at its peak. The cost of creating such a magnificent home was astonishing – said to be at least 16 million Livres (the currency of the day). Although it isn’t possible to accurately convert Livres to modern money, a skilled labourer would have earned 3 Livres a day at that time.
Le Fouquet celebrated the completion with a party at the Chateau on August 17 1661 attended by the cream of the aristocracy and the King, Louis XIV. A play by the famous playwright Molière was debuted and there was a grand dinner organised by the legendary François Vatel – it was lavish, elegant and completely dazzling. Fireworks lit up the summer sky illuminating the beauty and wonder of Fouquet’s creation.
However Le Fouquet’s pride in his palace was misplaced. Instead of creating pleasure for the visitors he aroused the envy of the one person he sought to flatter – Louis XIV. The Sun King had spent his entire life creating an image of himself as the pinnacle of all that was most beautiful, sumptuous and elegant. For one of his underlings to out stage him was unforgiveable and gave Fouquet’s enemies ammunition against him, whispering rumours that the immense cost must have been funded by pilfering the King’s coffers.
The rumours were never proved but it was enough to have Fouquet arrested and Molière later said of him “On 17 August, at six in the evening Fouquet was the King of France: at two in the morning he was nobody.”
The King seized the Chateau and everything in it, it took Fouquet ten years to regain his belongings but his heart was never in it after that and it was sold.
It is said that Vaux-le-Vicomte was the inspiration for the Chateau of Versailles which Louis XIV began in 1664 – he employed the same team as Fouquet had – Le Brun, Le Nôtre and Le Vau.
Over time the chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte fell into disrepair as generations left it empty. The gardens were overgrown, the buildings were abandoned.
In 1875 an auction of the Chateau took place and Alfred Sommier bought it and began a huge restoration project. His descendants carried on the task of restoration and preservation and the chateau is owned by his descendants and is now a recognised national monument.
You can tour the chateau and gardens (all 33 hectares of them), there is a carriage museum and the Chateau hosts candle lit tours from May to October. Held on Saturday nights, 2000 candles light up the gardens and chateau creating an ambience reminiscent of the Chateau’s early days. With classical music and dinner overlooking the gardens it makes for a romantic and stunning night (do remember to arrange transport home– the event goes on until midnight). You need to reserve tickets for this event which you can do online at the Vaux-le-Vicomte website below).
Video of the Festival of Nicolas Fouquet at Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte – a flavour of the night of 17th August, 1661:
Vaux-le-Vicomte in film
In Moonraker, the chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte was home to the villain Hugo Drax. The 1979 film opens on the chateau and it’s beautiful gardens with various shots of the chateau appearing throughout the film. The chateau appeared in several episodes of The Revolution, a documentary television series about the American Revolution, and can also be seen in the background in the film The Man in the Iron Mask.
You can rent a golf cart to visit the 33 hectares of garden
There is a picnic area and two restaurants, one of which is only open for the Chateau’s candlelit tours.
How to get to Vaux-le-Vicomte
By Train from Paris – Melun (taxi, or shuttle bus at weekends and bank holidays)
By Bus with Cityrama-Paris Vision – daily except Tuesday. From 2 Rue des Pyramides, Paris (1st Arrondissement) departs 9.15 returns 18.15.
See the Vaux-le-Vicomte website for opening times, travel details, exhibitions and reservations, booking online for some ticket options carries a discounted price.