On a bone-chilling day in December last year, keen to walk off some of that devillish foie gras that French people (and this particular Kiwi) love to consume at Christmas, Monsieur and I and a couple of the in-laws visited Vaux le Vicomte. For those men who salivate over Eva Longoria Parker and for the women who aspire to be her, this is where she chose to marry Tony Parker on 7 July 2007, on a day which was a lot warmer than the one we’re talking about now.
Vaux le Vicomte is a château located 55km southeast of Paris near Melun. It was designed by architect Louis le Vau with landcaping by André le Nôtre and interiors by Charles le Brun. The team’s masterpiece of collaboration is characteristic of the Louis XIV style, taking a mere 3 years (1658-1661) to build for Nicolas Fouquet, who, apart from being a marquis AND a viscount, was also the superintendent of finances for Louis XIV. Judging by the end result, Fouquet’s bonus structure must have been generous indeed.
We visited the carriages, collected through the many ages and fashions that Vaux le Vicomte has seen passing by,
admiring the many life-size fake horses sporting some truly inspired headwear.
It was cold in the carriage museum, but it was bone-bitingly bitter when we walked back outside, where we found that, in spite of the stunning grounds, seasonally planted with Christmas trees, we couldn’t wait to warm up a bit inside.
The dining table caught my attention, with its welcoming red tablecloth and burning candles. Do you think their insurance man knows about this?
Then we wandered through a foyer with its giant Christmas tree scraping the ceiling high above. At ground level, stuffed animals foraged around its roots.
One of my photos of the tree room displays a mysterious orb. Light was far from bouncing off the walls that day. It was dull with winter. Perhaps the orb was a Vaux le Vicomte guardian spirit checking out the visitors?
Moving through the rooms, past painted ancestors and gilded furniture, we found the Nativity. I could have stood for hours studying the little figures, but the queue pushed us on.
It was now dark, but we couldn’t leave without visiting Marie-Christine in the kitchen. That would have been rude. You can probably see that the chill air was making her feel a bit wooden, so before bidding her adieu, we suggested she sit by the fire for a while to warm up.
Then, bristling against the December wind, we shivered all the way back to the car, past fairy lights twinkling in the topiary. I was frustrated by my camera’s inability to capture the beauty of the garden at night, but my hands were so blue with cold that were now incapable of hitting the right tiny button to make the right functions work.
The rows of Christmas trees standing in soldier-straight lines were the only twinkling thing to come out of my frozen-fingered attempt at night photography, so I pinched a photo from Tour Magazine to show you what I’m talking about. Vaux le Vicomte has a massive reputation for arranging some of the most beautiful animations de Noël (Christmas lights) in all of France.
It’s also hardly surprising that such a beautiful place has been used as a location for many well-known films, such as Marie-Antoinette, Jean de la Fontaine and Molière, but hypothermia was kicking in so we had to go. Besides, (more) foie gras was waiting for us at home with a nice, crackling fire by which to thaw.
If you visit Vaux le Vicomte in the summer, you may like to check their concert series which proves very popular, or so I’ve heard.
**If you go in winter, like we did, please please please wear plenty of thermal underwear and the like. At the risk of sounding like your mother, hats, gloves, scarves are also necessary so that seasonal discomfort does not distract from this wonderful château. I was wearing most of these items but still the cold broke through. Brrrr.