Welcome to the first installment of the monthly France Blogging Roundtable, a project organized by Christine Cantera of WhyGo France. The group includes Christine and four others of us who blog about France: Jennifer of Chez Lou Lou, Jamie of Life's a Feast, EuroCheapo, and me. Each month we'll share our unique perspectives on a predetermined topic about France. This month's topic is “Favorite Art in France.” So pull up a chair to our Roundtable, have a croissant or an eclair, and join in on the conversation. We'd love to hear your take on each month's topic and your comments.
Two things initially brought me to Vaux le Vicomte. First, I'm a sucker for French castles. If there's a castle in the area, I'm there. Even though I'm usually mocking the eccentricities of the very rich, I have to give them credit. Their eccentricities and patronage have brought us great works of art. Also, being a huge fan of Alexandre Dumas and his many books that take place in France, I went to Vaux le Vicomte in search of "The Man in the Iron Mask." There was no man in a mask. Instead I fell in love with the castle and its gardens. Restored to their original grandeur, the castle and the gardens tell the story of its past and are whimsical enough to invite inspiratioin, wonder and new creativity.
The castle was the idea of Nicolas Fouquet, minister of finances for King Louis XIV. He set out to build the finest chateau in France and hired the architect, Louis le Vau, the interior designer, Charles le Brun, and the landscape artist, Andre LeNotre to help. Unfortunately for Fouquet, he was a little too successful. His creatiion also set in motion his demise. King Louis XIV asked to see the place. Fouquet had a feast prepared for the king and an evening of lavish entertainment that ended in an elaborate fireworks display, one that had them coming from everywhere, even the top of the castle's dome.
The king didn't like being upstaged by one of his employees, and three weeks after the fete, Fouquet was arrested for embezzlement. A trumped up charge, Fouquet spent the rest of his life in prison, dying 19 years later. King Louis XIV took le Vau, le Brun and LeNotre and had them create a new castle, bigger and better than Vaux le Vicomte. Versailles was born, its size and its gardens tripling that of Vaux le Vicomte. The king also took statues, tapesties and the orange trees from Vaux le Vicomte.
Though it's no longer the biggest castle in France, Vaux le Vicomte has been restored to its majestic form, one which dominates the gardens from every angle and where its reflection shimmers in the garden's lakes. My favorite part of the castle is the domed Grand Salon, and well of course, the kitchen. The kitchen, too, has been fixed and furnished as it was in Fouquet's time (late 1600s). The gardens are what I love the most. Can a garden be considered art? I think so. Meticulously placed lakes, ponds, grottoes, fountains, sculptures and shrubs fill the garden, while a square shaped canal frames the castle. The garden is the place where art and nature come together and inspire.
"To Create a Garden is to paint a landscape." ~ Alexander Pope
In the summer, candlelights are set throughout the gardens and along the castle's window sills. The fountains come alive to a musical display. There's also another reason to love Vaux le Vicomte. For the last four years during the first weekend in November, the castle has been transformed into un Palais du Chocolat. Chocolate and chocolatiers take over for the weekend and turn the castle into a chocolate lover's paradise. Just missing the chocolate festivities this year, (I'll make sure to see them next year, though) I visited the castle again this Autumn to find the garden just as beautiful and adorned with the colors of Fall.
Inside the Castle:
The castle, rarely crowded, is an easy 25-minute ride on the train or RER from Paris to Merlun. On the weekends, there is a shuttle bus that will take you to and from the Merlun train station. On other days, you need to take a taxi from Merlun's station. If you're visiting Paris during December, Vaux le Vicomte celebrates Christmas at the castle.
Check out what the others have to say about art in France:
- Favorite French Art from WhyGo France
- Favorite Art in France from Chez Lou Lou
- Paris Art Museums: Admission, Charges and Discounts from EuroCheapo
What is your favorite art in France?