For Visitors Tired Of Versailles, a Magnificent And (Currently) Less Well-Known Château South-East Of Paris Awaits. Let’s Visit Vaux-le-Vicomte!
Go for a drive south-east of Paris, through the rolling countryside of Seine-et- Marne, and it’s quite easy to miss this place. As tiny villages slip away, suddenly – with no warning – appears the most remarkable of châteaux. Vaux-le-Vicomte is the name of this elegant property, which lies near the town of Melun, 55 kilometres from the French capital. It is billed as a tranquil alternative to Versailles; but, as I am about to discover, it is by no means less interesting. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Versailles boasts a rich history and has its fair share of political scandals, but the same can be also said of Vaux-le-Vicomte. It was little more than a modestly sized château when Nicolas Fouquet bought it in 1641. In 1657, he became Minister of the Economy, Finance and Industry under Louis XIV; eager to impress the king, Fouquet commissioned architects Louis Le Vau and André Le Nôtre, and painter Charles Le Brun to transform Vaux-le-Vicomte into a dazzling delight.
Sadly, Fouquet did anything but impress the king, who became suspicious of his minister’s extravagance. Matters came to a head on 17 August 1661 when Fouquet organised a lavish fête at the château for the king. Weeks later, he was arrested for misappropriating public money to fund the grandiose property and was later imprisoned for life on the orders of Louis XIV.
While Vaux-le-Vicomte might not have the epic proportions of Versailles, there is still plenty here to take your breath away. Immediately striking is its layout along a four-kilometre axis: and it emerges out of nowhere like a film set. I stand at the front gates and marvel at the château’s front facade, which looks as if it is at the centre of a mise-en-scène. The overwhelming feeling is of transparency, allowing visitors to look directly through the château’s main entrance-hall, all the way to an imposing statue of Hercules, at the far end of the gardens.