Château de Vaux le Vicomte – a masterpiece that cost a life in the prison
Although located close to Paris, most likely a few of you have heard about Château de Vaux le Vicomte. It was the residence of Nicolas Fouquet, the finance minister of the Sun King. The rise and fall of Nicolas was so rapid, that later Voltaire would write: “On 17 August, at six in the evening Fouquet was the King of France, at two in the morning he was nobody”.
History of the palace
In 1641 Nicolas Fouquet purchased a little château between Vincennes and Fontainebleau. He was just a young member of the French parliament at that time, but he had great ambitions. It was no coincidence that his family motto was: “To What Heights May I Not Climb?”. And he climbed, but the price he paid cost his life.
In 1653 Nicolas became the finance minister of King Louis XIV, the Sun King. In 1657 he decided to expand his château to match his current position. To build the palace of his dreams, Nicolas hired the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape designer André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun. They all worked together to create this unique masterpiece. To provide the necessary space for his grand project, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The château was ready in 1661 after five years of hard work.
Nicolas was a faithful servant of the crown and even one part of the château was build especially for Louis XIV. Unfortunately during the last years of his service he had won many enemies, one of whom was Jean-Baptiste Colbert. After the death of Cardinal Mazarin, the prime minister of the king, Fouquet should have succeeded him. While he was aiming for the position, Colbert was plotting against him. Colbert led the king to believe that Nicolas has used state funds for personal benefits.
In August 1661 Nicolas decided to throw a party in honour of King Louis XIV. When the king saw the luxury palace at the lavish party, he was convinced in Fouquet’s guilt. The party was spectacular and it included a play of Molière and an impressive firework display. It was the highest point in the life of Nicolas. If only he knew his days were numbered.
Three weeks after the party d’Artagnan, captain of the King’s musketeers, arrested Nicolas. The latter was sent to prison and his wife – exiled. Nicolas Fouquet spend the rest of his life in the citadel of Pignerole and died lonely and miserable on 23 March, 1680. After the arrest of Nicolas, his château was placed under sequestration. The Sun King hired the same trio of artists, who build Château de Vaux le Vicomte, to design a new palace for him. The result exceeded all the expectations – Château de Versailles was born.
Madame Fouquet succeeded to recover her property ten years after the arrest. She lived there with her eldest son. Few years after the death of her beloved son, she put the palace for sale. It has changed many owners since then. Nowadays the Vogüé family owns the palace.
Tour of the palace
The palace is privately owned, but it is open to the public. You can visit it by your own. The interior of the château is luxurious with many chandeliers, paintings and tapestries. You can enjoy this beauty in total peace as there aren’t any crowds even in the weekends.
André le Nôtre created a magnificent scene in the gardens, using fountains, water basins and statues. He used an optical illusion to give the impression that the gardens are larger than they are in fact. Le Nôtre placed the Grand Canal at the lowest part of the gardens, so you can’t see it standing at the terrace of the château. You can easily explore the gardens on foot.
Tips for visiting Château de Vaux le Vicomte
- As the palace is private, it is not included in the Museum Pass.
- From May to October there is a candlelit evening every Saturday. More info here.
- There is a water show every second and last Saturday until October.
- The château shuttle bus no longer runs from Melun train station. You will need to get a train to Verneuil l’Etang station. More instructions see below.
How to get there
Château de Vaux le Vicomte is located in Maincy, 55 kilometres southeast of Paris. You have to take the direct TER train (Line P) in the direction of Provins from Gare de l’Est. The trip is about 30-40 minutes. Get off at Verneuil l’Etang station. From there catch a shuttle bus, which will take you to the palace. The bus runs every day from April to November and only in the weekends during the rest of the year. Find more information here.
Have you visited the Château de Vaux le Vicomte? Please leave your comment below.