When 17th-century finance minister Nicolas Fouquet set about building his château in what’s now the Paris suburbs, he spared no expense. He hired the best architect of the day, Louis Le Vau, to build the best money could buy. Painter Charles Le Brun and landscape architect André le Nôtre were tapped as well. And then Fouquet hosted a lavish housewarming party … his mistake.
At the time, the royal residence of Versailles was a rustic hunting lodge in the middle of the wilderness. So when party guest king Louis XIV saw Fouquet’s lavish French Baroque abode, imminently more breathtaking than his own, he fumed. And then he did what only kings can do … three days after the party he threw Fouquet in prison, then set about stealing every last item from Vaux. He filched Fouquet’s dream team as well, who transformed his hunting lodge into the flamboyant palace we know today. And poor Fouquet? He ended up dying in the slammer.
Vaux-le-Vicomte remains in private hands, though it’s open to the public to tour. With its architectural design and landscaping influencing Versailles, it’s almost the same as touring the more famous royal residence.
Eight Reasons to Visit Vaux instead of Versailles
- Versailles receives more than seven million visitors a year — seven times more than any other French château. At Vaux, you'll feel as if you own the place as you stroll around the nearly empty rooms.
- While Versailles is immense, impossible to see in a day, Vaux is on a much smaller scale, providing a leisurely, more intimate visit.
- Both gardens were designed by Le Nôtre. Of course Versailles’ gardens are immense and stunning … but the smaller gardens at Vaux are considered Le Nôtre's masterpiece. Don’t miss the water mirror, designed to reflect the entire palace in its depths.
- Vaux-le-Vicomte has been painstakingly restored, down to LeBrun’s glittering gilded rooms and beautifully painted ceilings.
- Vaux-le-Vicomte showcases special events throughout the year with the whole family in mind: A giant Easter egg hunt on the premises, baroque dances, and a decadent chocolate show in November. Though the most highly touted event are the candlelit evenings, when the palace gleams with 2,000 candles inside and out.
- While Versailles is over-the-top in its opulence, it was impossible for Louis XIV to steal something he would never understand: good taste.
- You can dine in Vaux’s garden terrace facing the château.
- Versailles is famous for its fountain displays, but Vaux has them as well – the second or last Saturday of the month between 3 and 6 p.m.