A Candlelight Saturday Night at Château Vaux Le Vicomte
by Jane Rosenstein and Didier Lambert
From May to October 5 on Saturday nights Château Vaux Le Vicomte, located 50 kilometers from Paris in Maincy and its gardens are lit up by 2000 candles. It is a unique and special experience for visitors.
The history of the largest privately owned castle in France, located in the woods, is very interesting. It was built for LouisXIV’s minister of finance, Nicolas Fouquet. Three men were important in the design of the castle: the architect Louis Le Vau, the painter and interior designer Charles Le Brun and the famous gardener and landscape artist André Le Nôtre. On August 17, 1661 Nicholas Foquet gave a fantastic party consisting of a stroll in the gardens, a banquet, theatre and then fireworks.
It was during this evening that Louis XIV decided to put Fouquet in prision accusing him of stealing money from the treasury. At first the court decided just to banish him from France but then for the first time and only time the Head of State in France overruled the judge’s sentence. Fouquet was locked up in Pignerol where he died on March 23, 1680. It was the same prision that the man with the iron mask was incarcerated in
After his death, the castle was owned by his wife. Eventually, the castle was purchased by the present owners’ great grandfather, Alfred Sommie,r on June 15,1875. He was the only bidder at an auction and paid 2,275,000 French francs. Between 1875 and 1908 he spent over 16.7 million Euros to restore the castle and the gardens which had been in decay for over 30 years.In 1968,, Patrice de Vogué opened it to the public In 2012 the castle became the proprerty of Jean Charles and Alexandre de Vogué -the 5th generation to own the castle.
L’Association des Amis de Vaux Le Vicomte (Association of Friends of Vaux Le Vicomte) was founded in 1963. Today it has over 2500 members giving financinal support to the castle and the gardens.
We arrived in the afternoon before the candles were lit at this magnificent château in order to see the gardens in the daylight. During our visit we had the pleasure of visiting the gardens, the castle ,the carriage museum and seeing fireworks.
After visiting the carriage museum and marveling at how well preserved the carriages were and the descriptions, we walked in gardens of 33 hectares in a park of 500 hectares designed by the famous garden designer André Le Notre. This year is the 400 th year of his birth and Château de Vaux Le Vicomte has some intersting celebrations planned in his memory. Of the 26 original pools in 1661, 10 are functioning today and the other 16 should be restored in the next few years. Some of the pools reflect the castle. One of them especially facinated us. It is Titan’s pool and while it appears round from the steps of the castle, it is really oval. This is called ornamorphosis. We enjoyed touring the gardens and saw tourists driving electric golf cars which drivers can rent for 45 mins. or one hour. The gardens were immaculately kept and it was a great experience to see the candles light up the gardens.
Then we had the pleasure of dining in the Restaurant L’Ecureil which features delicious food including steak, pork and vegetables accompanied by beverages including French wine. Restaurant Charmilles, in the garden offers special candlelight dinners of a half lobster and steak with or without champagne and other fixed priced dinners at 49 Euros without champagne and 59 with champagne. The people we talked to who had dined there said it was great. There is also a snack bar and a picnic area.
We enjoyed touring the magnificent castle and admiring the grand ballroom,; the bedrooms and other rooms of the private apartments. The tapestries hung were magnificant to see. Audioguides in different languages help visitors understand the things that they are looking at. They enriched our experience and we noticed that most people were listening to them. We felt as if we were living in the era of André Fouquet.at Château Vaux Le Vicomte.
. This fall in mid November the chateau will feature the Palace of Chocolate with chocolate makers having tastings and sharing some of their know how.Then there is Christmas at Vaux Le Vicomte . Any season is a good time to tour this magnificent castle and its gardens.