You arrive in the village of Maincy, turn down a long tree-lined avenue, and find yourself in the parking lot of le château de Vaux-Le-Vicomte. Entering through the gift shop, you really have no idea the wonders to come. Another easy day trip from Paris has brought you to one of the great French châteaux of the 17th C.
Could this be the property so luxurious that Louis XIV threw its owner into jail for life? Even as you walk through the stables, it’s not until you’ve stepped round to the gardens do you understand.
Vaux-Le-Vicomte is not just a study in French Baroque architecture, but also a study on what not to do if you are Minister of Finance for the King. Nicolas Fouquet, its owner, assembled, for the first time, the great 17TH C design triumvirate: Andre Le Nôtre on gardens, Louis Le Vau on architecture, and Charles Le Brun on interior design. These three would collaborate again on Versailles and the style that would emerge would later, ironically, be known as “Louis XIV style.” Louis Le Vau stole a little from fellow architect Francois Mansart, of roof fame, and his Château de Maisons nearby. Although the château and it interiors are fabulous, in my humble opinion, it’s all about Le Notre’s garden design.
Parterres, water gardens, canals, fountains, walks, vistas – it’s all going on here. I love a Baroque garden – everything is molded to fit our wishes. Nothing looks truly natural. How Le Notre did this is a lesson in garden design which is a whole university lecture in itself! What I do know is that you could spend the day getting lost and then being found again.
Nicolas Fouquet, the Superintendent of Finances for Louis XIV, made a big mistake. He planned a huge, three-day party to celebrate the completion of his new house. It was thought to be the best party ever, fireworks, a debut of Moliere’s new play, an artificial whale swimming in the canal, and more fireworks. The mistake Fouquet made was inviting his boss.
I am sure Louis XIV thought to himself that either he was paying his Finance Mister a little too much or Fouquet was stealing from him. After the three-day bash, Louis whisked Nicolas off to jail where he was sentenced to life in prison, never to return. Louis did have the sense to snap up the property and went on to hire Le Notre, Le Vau and Le Brun for his own place in the country – Versailles.
For those who do find the idea of traipsing around its substantial gardens daunting, Vaux-Le-Vicomte has buggies for rent, so you can ride around to see every aspect, every nook and cranny of Le Notre’s work that poor old Nicolas only got to see for a moment.