Vaux le Vicomte

Vaux le Vicomte
Vaux le Vicomte is a lavish 17th century château located roughly an hour southeast of Paris. It is a breathtaking place, one well worth visiting whether you are in Paris for a few days or have lived there for years. It generated buzz in the foreign press when it hosted the wedding of French basketball player Tony Parker and actress Eva Longoria. (For those of you currently looking for a site for a wedding, may your wallets run deep: renting the site for a single day costs upward of $40,000.) Additionally, it served as the site of director Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette. I had visited the château years ago as part of a high school group, and as I was now living in Paris I decided to go back. My girlfriend and I chose the night of August 17th, when the château holds an annual celebration to commemorate the first–and final–fête thrown by the man who commissioned the château’s construction, Nicolas Fouquet. Fouquet was the Minister of Finance under Sun King Louis XIV and a renowned patron of the arts, moving in a circle that included Moliere, La Fontaine and Madame de Sévigné. His story is a sad one. He rose quickly through Louis’ administration, and along the way garnered the enmity of a number of jealous underlings. One of these, Jean-Baptiste Colbert (the future finance minister), embarked on a year-long quest to slander Fouquet and convince the king that Fouquet was guilty of embezzlement and treason (charges of which Fouquet, according to the Vaux le Vicomte website, was innocent). Whether or not Colbert alone is to be blamed, by the time that August 17th, 1661 came around, Louis XIV had made up his mind to arrest Fouquet. Nevertheless, he decided to attend what became a historic fête that Fouquet was throwing that night in celebration of the completion of Vaux le Vicomte. What Fouquet had intended as an expression of loyalty and patriotism, Louis took as an admission of guilt, and had him arrested two weeks later. Voltaire said of the matter: “On 17 August, at six in the evening Fouquet was the King of France: at two in the morning he was nobody.” Twenty-one years later, Fouquet died in jail. Well, it was again August 17th, albeit nearly 350 years later, and we were going to Vaux le Vicomte to celebrate Monsieur Fouquet and his beautiful home. Much like the original fete, we were promised a Moliere play, a champagne bar and fireworks. For an additional €60, we could even attend a “period feast”–provided that we were also wearing traditional 17th century garb. Our trip started in Paris, haphazardly, with my girlfriend getting her coat stuck in the RER’s doors as they closed behind her (we were late, leaping on to the train). “Melun”, we’d barked indelicately as we were scrambling aboard, “This goes to Melun?” The passengers discretely nodded. We loosened her coat from the door, breathed in deeply and took our seats. The train to Melun (the station closest to the château) took roughly 45 minutes. It should be said here, when Vaux le Vicomte is throwing a special event–which they appear to do fairly often–certain companies such as Paris Vision offer packages in which a bus will take you directly to Vaux le Vicomte from the center of Paris, and then from Vaux le Vicomte back to Paris once the night’s festivities close. Included in this package are entrance tickets and a meal. There are a number of problems with this package. The first is the expense: most start at around 150 euros per person, which is about three times what one spends if one uses public transportation, or drives. Also, you can only leave when their bus leaves, and what if you are one who enjoys setting your own agenda? And if you’d rather bring your own food than eat at their restaurant? (Bringing your own food, by the way, is an excellent idea; instead of eating at the overpriced restaurant, bring a baguette and some cheese, and dine in the château’s garden or by its lake.) Of course, public transportation has its own problems, and we encountered every single one of them. For a reason unknown to man, the company that runs Vaux le Vicomte offers no means of transportation from the station in Melun to the château itself. No transportation, that is, save for a small “château bus” which only runs on Saturday night, and then only at very odd hours. (The last bus leaves from the château at 22:20, but the candlelight festivals, by then, are only half over.) When we arrived at the Melun train station, a number of lost souls–an equal mix of tourists and French nationals–wandered about vacantly, attempting to find means of transport. One can walk the 6 miles to the château, but don’t expect a nice stroll through French countryside. Melun itself is a charming–if bizarrely constructed–city, laid out identically to the center of Paris, with its own “Seine”, its own “Île de la Cité”, and even its own “Notre Dame”. The five-mile stretch after the town ends is identical to, if not actually worse than, any five-mile stretch down any highway in America. One’s best bet it to figure out the city’s bus system and walk the difference, or more practically, to fork up the €10 needed for a cab ride. We did a bit of both. At the station, my girlfriend made the mistake of asking a willowy middle-aged man for directions. Pierre–who sported a Marilyn Monroe tee shirt and camouflage pants with pictures of Marilyn Monroe plastered all over them–did lead us to a bus, but he also insisted on boarding it with us, even though he himself needed to go in the opposite…

More in Bonjour Paris, castle, day trips from Paris, Disneyland Paris, Driving in France, France, France travel, French chateau, French history, French tourism, garden, garden tours, history, King Louis, Melun, night tours, Palace, Vaux le Vicomte

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