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A smaller chateau to rival Versailles

Candlelight visits of the chateauThere was a memorable party given at the gorgeous chateaux and gardens at Vaux le Vicomte by Nicolas Fouquet in the summer of 1661. And I’m not talking about the wedding of Gina Logobria and Tony Parker. Mr. Fouquet put on his celebration in the 17th century in response to a request from Louis XIV, king of France (1738-1715). The story goes that the 23-year-old king (shown below) was so jealous of the estate’s splendor–as well as suspicious of where Fouquet had gotten his hands on such money–that Fouquet was invited to Louis’s hunting lodge for a party, then arrested, then put in jail. (Where Fouquet eventually died.)

Louis XIV 

It seems however, that in fact Nicolas Fouquet was the fall guy for a large amount of embezzling that was done by the Cardinal Mazarin (coincidentally the king’s godfather) who had died that same year. Fouquet himself didn’t help matters by refusing to tone down his parties and other excesses. 

Fouquet shared some brief cell time with the “Man in the Iron Mask” while he was imprisoned in the Alps. Some of  the movie The Man in the Iron Mask, the 1998 film starring Leonardo de Caprio, was filmed at the chateau, as well as the movies Valmont, Marie Antoinette, and Moonraker.

The Man in the Iron Mask

Nicolas Fouquet chose three men of genius to build Vaux le Vicomte: the architect Louis Le Vau, the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun, and the landscape gardener André Le Nôtre. These designers were also commandeered by Louis XIV to create the Château de Versailles. The first formal “French” gardens were created by André Le Nôtre, a veteran of working on renovating the Tuileries Garden. With the leaves turning yellow and many trees shedding their tresses, the gardens were wistful and not so overwhelmingly green when we visited in mid November.

 Garden designer Notre’s fountains are still gravity-fed as they were in the 17th century. Rain is captured along three aqueducts and collects in a large reservoir. From there, water feeds the smaller pools and fountains. There were some showers around us and some spitting rain, but many of the fountains had already been turned off.

Our French friends had not been to the Vaux either, and we all enjoyed this wonderful chateau, smaller in scale than the one in Versailles, but perhaps more elegant because of the livable scale of the place. We toured the carraige house and stables first, wishing we could have seen one of the Phaetons skittering around the grounds. Our lunch at the chateau’s small restaurant at small tables was delicious. The warm rooms were a prelude to touring the gift shop with everything from dishes and kitchen utensils to books, candies, and hazelnut preserves.

The most delightful thing about Vaux le Vicomte for me was the special feature of providing costumes (for 4 €) to kids. During our visit, we saw young musketeers, queens, serving girls, and great swordsmen walking about with their parents. Not only did it give visitors a tiny bit of an authentic look at chateau residents from long ago, but it gave children a feel for the place they were visiting. More museums should offer this kind of visual and tactile journey back in time for its younger visitors. Kids might even begin to look forward to going to museums.


For Eva and Tony’s wedding reception at the chateau, since you’re curious, the menu’s first course included lobster medallions in gazpacho, with pistachio oil and avruga caviar pearls. The second course was sea bass filets accompanied by a creamy truffle risotto. The entrée was filet mignon with baby vegetables, mushrooms, and potatoes.

Eva and Tony drank Chablis (1er Cru Fourchaume 2002) and Margaux (Chateau Relais de Durfort 2002) with their slices of wedding cake. The five-tier vanilla-bean pound cake filled with organic raspberry preserves and white butter cream frosting was made by Perfect Endings’ Sam Godfrey of Napa Valley, California. They used Godfrey because, as everyone knows, there weren’t any good bakers in France.

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