Visit Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte
Vaux-le-Vicomte chateau is situated 50 kilometres south-east of Paris - hence it is not really a Loire Valley castle - we have included it for completeness as it is an important regional castle.
It is also one of the most impressive castles in the region (indeed, in the whole of France).
The 17th century baroque style castle is constructed on a large raised platform surrounded by a straight-edged moat, although by this stage a moat was purely decorative, copying the 'design' idea from earlier castles but without the moat serving a defensive role.
The gardens that surround Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte are a particular highlight, using the traditional 'French garden' style of small beds and miniature carefully manicured hedges and bushes, along with various formal ponds, statues and water features. (The style wasn't 'traditional' when the gardens were planted, they were very innovative and radical at the time!) The formal gardens are very extensive at 1.5 kilometres long and 200 metres wide, and were in part inspired by the decorative patterns of Turkish rugs of the period. Further garden explorations are possible through the surrounding managed woodlands
Note the length of these beds when you visit and you will see that the further you are from the house the longer they are. This is no casual plan, but rather a deliberate (and rather clever) effort to overcome the foreshortening effect of perspective at the castle
The interior of the castle is of course carefully and luxuriously decorated in the style appropriate to a 17th century castle, with an astonishing collection of fine furniture, paintings, tapestries etc. furnishing a large number of very impressive salons, apartments dining rooms and bedrooms.
One particularly stunning room is the Grand Salon - the central room in the chateau with a large domed ceiling.
Visit on the 2nd or last saturday between 15.00 and 18.00 to see the display of the fountains in the garden. There is also an extensive candlelit display on Saturday evenings, while period classical music plays in the background.
There is also a Museum of Horse drawn Carriages at the Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte.
History of Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte
Built in just a few years towards the end of the 17th century (1658-1661) for M.Fouquet (Finance minister for Louis XIV) the chateau at Vaux-le-Vicomte proved to be important architecturally for several reasons, and also managed to be the centre of various intrigues and scandals..
Before Vaux le Vicomte was constructed, the different processes involved - architecture, landscaping and interior decoration - had all been treated separately so it was quite a radical approach when the three specialists involved worked closely together to ensure that all the elements worked well together.
Note that the architect, Louis le Vau; the landscape gardener, André le Notre; and the interior designer, Charles le Brun later worked together on the Versailles Palace.
Such an elaborate chateau and gardens inevitably cost a great deal of money - in fact, the expenses of both the building and the party that he held at the house were so great that Louis XIV became jealous that his minister had been able to afford it, and used the story as a pretext to imprison Fouquet and confiscate the property.
In reality there was no embezzlement, simply a king jealous of the wealth and prestige of one of his subjects, and it was to take Mme Fouquet and her family 10 years to regain posession of the chateau.
Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte remained inhabited by various wealthy families well into the 19th century, but eventually (like many other French castles) fell to abandon.
After 30 years of neglect the chateau was bought and carefully restored by the Sommier family who still own the lovely Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte today. The extensive renovations also included a great deal of work on the gardens that surround the chateau.