A triumph of Louis XIV style
SNCF to Melun and taxi or walk. Asked to choose just one château to visit in the vicinity of Paris, this would have to be it. Built between 1656 and 1661 for Louis XIV’s Superintendant of Finances, Nicolas Fouquet, by a talented triumverate, Le Vau (architect), Le Brun (decorator) and Le Nôtre (landscaper), it is a triumph of the early Louis XIV style before the top-heavy ostentation of Versailles. The elegant and, by comparison modestly proportioned yellow-grey château, with its corner pavilions, is surrounded on three sides by an ornamental moat and overlooks superb gardens, combining geometric precision (canals, gravel paths, topiary and formal flowerbeds) with fantastically fey grottoes inhabited by statues of river gods.
Inside, the rooms are sumptuously furnished and feature some glorious frescoed ceilings by Le Brun (incidentally, all three of Fouquet’s designers were later poached to work on the Sun King’s glittering prize at Versailles), but many of the rooms remain bare and unfinished.
In 1661 Fouquet was already on somewhat shaky ground having antagonized the powerful Colbert and was under suspicion for dipping his hand in the State purse to fuel his extravagances. As Vaux-le-Vicomte neared completion, he foolishly invited the young king to dine on 17th August, and laid on a lavish banquet served on gold plates to the accompaniment of a new play by Molière, a ballet and spectacular fireworks. The king was not amused by his subject’s grandiose display of wealth. Fouquet was arrested, stripped of his possessions (many of which conveniently found their way to Versailles), and imprisoned for life on trumped-up charges.
Find more in: Culture treasure troves