Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Return to Vaux le Vicomte

When I was a child my parents drove often to a small town south of Paris to visit my cousins. It is about 17 miles from the outskirts of Paris but really about 40 miles (65 kms) from the center of Paris where we lived. Even though it is close to the capital it is amidst sugar beets and wheat fields and feels like one must be miles away. It was great fun for me to play with my cousin who lived with her grandparents (my grandmother and her grandfather were brothers and sisters. ) When we were about 16 years old her grandparents bought her a “velo Solex” which is a bicycle with a small motor on the front wheel. This is what I found on their UK site: “The Solex is a powered bycicle, not a moped. It was invented in 1946 in France, as a low cost, reliable transport for a decimated country. It is a classic design which, since its invention has sold over 8 million, mainly in Europe and Scandinavia. They have a tremendous reputation for being fun, reliable and economic. “ Below is a picture of a man riding a velo Solex in Paris, circa the mid 50s by the looks of the cars.

The priest where my cousin lived was upgrading from a velo Solex to a Mobylette to visit his flock. My father bought his Solex for me so I could ride with my cousin whenever I visited her. We had so much fun on our Solex which got about 100 miles to the gallon – we would often ride to Maincy where the castle of Vaux le Vicomte is located. Maincy is a little town about 6.5 miles away (11 kms) which we would reach by riding over a long road bordered with tall Plane trees. In those days the interior of the castle could not be visited but the alleys and the woods around it could.

Picture of some of the road and gardens below -

We rode there many times but I never took any picture of the castle. The castle was so familiar to us but we never knew its history – we just knew that it was owned by a sugar magnate. My cousin married at 18 years of age and a few years later I left for my visit to the United States. Our velo Solex were sold.

Below is the castle of Vaux le Vicomte and its gardens viewed from the sky (courtesy of the castle.)

Click on the picture to enlarge it
When my mother moved into a nursing home in the early 2000s, she selected one close to my cousin’s new hometown (close to the town where my cousin grew up.) When I visited my mum my cousin drove me around and we went to the castle of Vaux le Vicomte of course. That week was called “Journée du Patrimoine” and entrance to the castle was free. France’s national heritage week occurs usually the 3rd week of September and millions of visitors are allowed free access in local heritage sites, like castles, etc. This is when, after so many years, I was able to visit the interior of the castle, learn its history, take pictures and buy some postcards. This year again, when we went to France at the end of last October, we stayed with my cousin and we went to Vaux le Vicomte so my husband could visit it too, but unfortunately it was a Wednesday when the castle is closed to visitors.

Here is the picture of what we found – the gates closed.

The history of the castle and its owners is a long one, but I’ll try to be short (if I can…) The construction of the castle began in 1658 and ended in 1661. It is the most elaborate house built in the mid 17th century in France. It was built for Nicolas Fouquet (1615-1680) who was Louis XIV’s Minister of Finance. Fouquet came from a rich family, had a keen intelligence, loved the arts, letters, pictures, tapestries, flowers and was a patron of many artists, poets, authors, etc. Among them were La Fontaine and Molière. Fouquet invested his immense fortune in the building of this palatial castle. He selected 3 great artists: architect Louis Le Vau, painter Charles Le Brun and landscape gardener André Le Notre. Le Notre cleared 100+ acres from the wild woods of the estate to create an innovative garden with a sweeping view of more than a mile long (3 kms.) He used a geometric plan containing vast vistas, fountains, statues, orderly boxes of shrubberies, lawns and fountains. This was the birth of the elegant French landscape gardening style which would become the “jardin à la française” used in many European castles, grand houses and other elegant estates around the world. The Swan House in Atlanta has a garden à la française.

Postcards and photos provided by the castle and friends of the castle

Painter Charles Le Brun decorated the castle in a lavish and dazzling style. The interior rooms were furnished with elegant furniture, paintings, tapestries and statues. Later on he was to be employed by the King of France and was the originator of the Louis XIV style.

Postcards and photos provided by the castle and friends of the castle

Unfortunately Nicolas Fouquet was not to live in his beautiful castle for long. He was extremely successful with a brilliant mind and a generous spirit. He was very ambitious and loved refinement and luxury. This created extreme jealousy among the advisors of King Louis XIV (1638-1715) who plotted against Fouquet hoping to bring his downfall. King Louis was only 23 at the time and easily influenced. He was persuaded that Fouquet was embezzling funds from the royal coffers (which was not true) and decided to imprison him. First, though, he accepted an invitation to visit Fouquet’s castle at Vaux le Vicomte. Fouquet organized an extremely elaborate and magnificent party in honor of the king on 17 August 1661. All the guests praised Fouquet for the beauty of his castle, the décor, the music and they applauded greatly the final fireworks. This displeased King Louis, the “Sun King”, greatly because he felt “upstaged.” On 10 September 1661, 3 weeks after the party, the captain of the King’s Musketeers, d’Artagnan, arrested Fouquet on the orders of Louis XIV.

The “Mousquetaires” (Musketeers) were a French infantry type soldiers equipped with a musket. They were popularized in the Alexandre Dumas’ book “The Three Musketeers.”

Pictures of the corps of Musketeers (from re-enactment at the castle)

Nicolas Fouquet was sentenced by Louis XIV to life-imprisonment in a small fortified prison where he died in 1680. His wife was exiled and Louis XIV was then able to seize, confiscate and even purchase 120 tapestries, the statues, and many other things from the castle. The Sun King then hired Fouquet’s trio of artists Le Vau, Le Brun and Le Notre to come to Versailles and built a palace which would be even grander than Vaux le Vicomte. Versailles palace became one of the largest in Europe. On the postcards of Vaux le Vicomte is printed: “Le Chateau qui inspira Versailles” (the castle which inspired Versailles.)

Below is a portrait of Louis XIV painted by Charles Le Brun in 1666, the castle of Vaux le Vicomte on top and the Palace of Versailles in the bottom.

Mrs. Fouquet was exiled but recovered Vaux le Vicomte 10 years later. She sold it in 1705 to some noble family who kept it until it became run down. Mr. Alfred Sommier, a sugar magnate, was the winning bidder when the castle was sold at public auction in 1875. By 1908 he had it totally restored. The castle is now owned by his direct descendants, the glamorous Count and Countess de Vogüé, who continue the work to preserve Vaux le Vicomte. It is the most important private property listed on the Historical Monument List of France. When we stopped by last month you could see that the right side of the building was being restored. I took the pictures below.

Click on any picture to enlarge it

The estate is opened from March to November. Electric club cars can be rented to further explore the garden. Special events take place as, for instance, the “Day of the Great Century” where visitors can come wearing costumes from the 17th Century, as in the pictures below.

The castle of Vaux le Vicomte is available for hire by private parties like corporations or celebrities. Non famous people (as my cousin’s nephew) can have their wedding pictures taken there. Well-known people like French basketball player Tony Parker had his wedding ceremony there in July 2007. He married a Mexican-American fashion model named Eva Longoria, who I believe also does some acting on soap operas in the US. (their photo courtesy of French newspaper Le Figaro.)

Vaux le Vicomte celebrates Christmas and is opened on three week-ends during the Holiday Season. The interior and the garden are decorated and illuminated.

Then it is closed during the winter months and can be observed through the gate only.

Many years ago, when my cousin and I rode to Vaux le Vicomte on our Solex bikes, we rarely saw anyone there. We would not have imagined that years in the future the castle would be open to visitors and we would come back and discover its interior – its exterior is part of our childhood. It will always stay in our memory like a cherished sepia photograph.


""°o.O Nancy O.o°"" said...

*** Bonjour Vagabonde ! :o) ***

Ton article concernant Vaux le Vicomte est merveilleux ! Tu en parles si bien !
Je connais ce château mais tes photos me donnent envie d'y retourner !!!!

Très beau reportage sur un lieu rempli d'histoire. BRAVO !!!!!

Merci à toi Vagabonde !!!! BISOUS !!!!

claude said...

Bonjour Vagabonde !
J'ai oublié de te dire que je t'avais donné un Award pour l'excellence de ton blog.
Je connais ce chateau que par des reportages à la télé. C'est un bel endroit et les jardins n'ont rien à envier à ceux de Versailles.
C'est un post très historique que tu as fait là. Bravo ! C'est très intéressant.

Mon père avait acheté un vélo Solex pour aller au boulot. Puis ayant déménagé dans un village à côté, il s'est acheté une petite Fiat 500 et m'a donné son Solex pour aller au Lycée. Dommage qu'il l'ait revendu, c'est une pièce de collection maintenant.

wenn said...

such interesting story..

Vicki Lane said...

It's never wise to upstage the king.

Thank you for this wonderful look at Vaux le Vicomte. I particularly like the tree lined roads.

DJan said...

What a wonderful story about this place I knew nothing about, until this morning. And Eva Longoria is indeed a "Desperate Housewife" in a show I still watch. To know she was married there is very interesting.

You are certainly a good guide to this place you knew growing up. It's difficult to for me to understand how people can be so cruel to one another, until I realize that it has always been part of the human condition. I was glad to hear that Mrs. Fouquet recovered the property.

Jenn Jilks said...

How glorious! I love it! We went to Paris and had a marvellous time. THe castles are amazing. Great post!
P.S. snowing heavily, still. Should have a bet to see how much!

Fennie said...

Et bonjour de moi aussi, Vagabonde.
Et encore une histoire de merveille.
Oui, Vaux le Vicomte. Ca prend-t'on le souffle, n'est-ce pas? Comme c'est beaux ce chateau.

J'ai lu que Fouquet était un candidat pour 'l'homme dans le masque de fer.'

Triste historie mais il ne faut pas etre plus royaliste que le roi. Je soupconne que Louis a su bien ce qu'il faisait en renvoyant Fouquet.
Mais le Roi n'a pas également compris le finance. Fouquet peut-etre etait corrompu mais il a su gérer les fonds de l'état.

alaine@éclectique said...

What a lovely story, I really enjoyed that! Poor, unfortunate Fouquet! Thank you for sharing lovely memories of your childhood and that beautiful castle - hope you don't mind but I've saved the interior shots for my desktop! xa

Darlene said...

I love castles and chateaus. Thank you for the lovely photo journey and for doing such marvelous research.

Marguerite said...

What a fabulous and interesting post! I really enjoyed the tour of this beautiful castle. Loved the painting of Louis XIV and would love to go there on the "Day of the Great Century", in costume. And the photos are amazing! Quite a place to see in your childhood.
Merci for visiting and for your comment, cher!

Elaine said...

I enjoyed this post very much. The castle is absolutely beautiful and its history is very interesting. Too bad they were closed and your husband wasn't able to go inside. I like your memories of the castle and visiting it with your cousin. Just as you find it wonderful to see the moose in my yard I find it wonderful to hear your stories of your childhood that was so different than mine.

✿France✿ said...

BOnjour et merci pour Roger je pense qu'il en sera ravi. Ton blog est superbe de belles photos et tu vois ce que je recherche avant tout est
le calme. Que je viens de trouver chez toi.
Je vais revenir car je reviens des courses et je dois tout ranger. Passe une belle journée et encore merci

Reader Wil said...

Est-ce que ce château est près de Chambord?

Ruth said...

This is brilliant.

I had never heard of this castle! I wonder why Fontainebleu is more famous and visited? It has to be even a little farther from Paris than Vaux le Vicomte.

The history is absolutely fascinating! I am amazed that this was behind Versailles too. It's great fun to picture you and your cousin riding around there, through those plane trees. Those photos just move me, I so love plane trees. Your photos and the postcards are gorgeous, and as always, your research is perfectly summarized in your prose.

And thank you for the research on Mt. Ararat too!

Reader Wil said...

Mon premier commentaire n'est pas
publicé. Je me suis rappeler le solex très bien. Maintenant une autre catégorie de vélos électrique est très populaire!
Merci de vos belles photos de ce château.En juin j'ai vu les châteaux dans la région de Loir et Chèr. Ils sont les Châteaux de Chambord,de Chaumont,de Chenonceau, de Cheverny et de Ville Savin.
Merci de votre visite et commentaire. Moi, je préfère aussi les histoires plus gaies avant Noël, mais c'était le tour de la lettre "U". Je promets d'écrire une plus jolie histoire une autre fois, comme l'histoire du cygne amoureux.

Friko said...

hi Vagabonde,

A lovely post on a very special chateau, but I like the photos of the French tree-lined avenues best. They remind me of the many happy holidays I've spent in France driving along just such roads. I have never visited your chateau.

Do you know if the velo Solex are the same as mopeds? they were all the rage when I was a teenager, but I never had one.

islandgirl4ever2 said...

Salut Vagabonde!

Thanks for leaving an comment and I'm very happy you found my blog (par hasard) and that you have enjoyed my photos so far!
I LOVE to take pics as you can see and to travel! My travel blog is actually listed on my blog on the side bar somewhere-- Our Vacation Photos-- and when you have a moment, please stop by and check out my pix there, too.. and in the archives-- I LOVEEEE to travel, too... and always look for good deals/budget travel, as well!
I love your pics, too... So, I'll be back, as well!
Nice to meet you here in the Blog-o-spere and next time you're in Paris, please feel free to look me up!
Take care et bon weekend...

Kenza said...

Magnifique reportage accompagné de merveilleuses photos! Bravo!! J'ai visité ce château et j'y retournerai bien grâce à toi...
Ma chère Vagabonde pour ce qui concerne le petit jeu, c'est ma faute (voulant faire original), j'ai choisi le thème de la peinture pour rester dans le cadre de mon blog... Mais il était demandé des photos personnelles à dominante bleue, voilà si le cœur t'en dit, tu peux toujours jouer et faire jouer tes amies!!
Je t’embrasse et te souhaite une très belle soirée

Vagabonde said...

Nancy et Claude – Je suis contente que ce post vous a intéressé et que vous êtes venues me voir. Merci.

Wenn and Darlene – So happy for your interest and for stopping by.

Vicky Lane - The tall plane trees are beautiful I agree – your visit is appreciated.

DJan – I am happy you enjoyed this post and that I made you aware of a new place; thanks for your visit.

Jenn Jilks – I am always happy when you stop by. Your snow scenes are beautiful – I wish I could visit your area.

Fennie - Oui, il y a une hypothèse qui à mêler le sort de Fouquet à celui du Masque de Fer surtout Alexandre Dumas dans son livre “le Vicomte de Bragelonne.” Merci pour votre visite.
translation for English readers: There is a theory that links the fate of Fouquet with that of the man in the iron maks, above all in the book “Le Vicomte de Bragelonne” of Alexandre Dumas.

Alaine - I am happy that you liked this post and thank you for your visit too.

Marguerite - always so happy when you stop by, chére Marguerite.

Elaine – I am glad that you enjoy learning about my childhood and my background, just as I enjoy reading about yours; always pleased to read your comments.

Vagabonde said...

France – le blog de ton ami Roger est très beau et j’y retournerai – il a l’air vraiment gentil. Merci d’avoir pris le temps de venir me laisser un com.

Reader Wil – ce château se trouve près de Melun, en Seine et Marne, un peu avant Fontainebleau. Je suis toujours contente de lire vos commentaires, chère Reader Wil.

Friko – No, the Solex is not a moped. It is just a “powered” bicycle and my blogging French friend Claude is telling me that they are sought after as collectible now. Thank you for always finding the time to stop by.

Ruth - so happy you enjoyed this post and the pictures and so glad to have you visiting as well. I think Vaux le Vicomte is not as well known as Fontainebleau because for so long visitors were not allowed inside plus it is a private castle. Fontainebleau just like Versailles is considered a “palace” rather than mere “castle” as both are much larger.

Leesa – welcome to my blog. I am pleased you enjoyed your visit and hope you will be back. Traveling has always been my passion since I was a kid, so I’ll be anxious to come and look at your travel pictures.

Kenza - merci d’être venue me voir mais je regrette de ne pas pouvoir jouer car mon temps est si limité. C’est toujours un plaisir de lire tes commentaires, chère Kenza. Bonne soirtée à toi aussi.

Zuzana said...

Beautiful castle. So much recollection in your post, such an extensive description of its history and your own as well, linked to it. Not to mention stunning pictures.
This is why I love Europe; there is so much historical and architecture treasure, stretching back centuries, to be found everywhere.

I want to thank you very much for all the comments you left on my blog yesterday and for the fact that you visited and read through so many of my posts, what a treat. Furthermore a BIG THANK YOU for solving my years long enigma of identifying the painter of the paintings given to me by my parents. Yes in deed, it is Panjoda, the style on the painting you linked to is unmistakably identical. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it had some decent value as well, although to me the value is more affectionate.;)

Thank you again, this made my day.
Have a lovely Sunday,

Vagabonde said...

Zuzana I really appreciate your nice comments. I am pleased that your paintings have been identified – it was fun for me to research the painter. Thanks for stopping by.

Reader Wil said...

Merci encors de votre commentaire sur les fleurs de mon anniversaire! C'était un commentaire poétique!!Je suis toujours heureuse de vos commentaires aussi. Bonne semaine.

Shammickite said...

I would love to get dressed up in such finery and stroll around the magnificent gardens at the castle of Vaux le Vicomte. I would have more feathers in my hat that anyone else! And the biggest skirt!
What an interesting post, thank you for telling me all about your excursions on your Solex with your cousin. I remember the Mobylettes from when I was in France as a shcoolgirl!

PeterParis said...

I don't see anything to add to this wonderful and so complete post!!!

Maybe that I'm the owner of a modern Solex, not quite the same as the real one, but looking somehow similar... and electrically driven!

Vagabonde said...

Shammickite - I’d love to go to the castle with an elaborate outfit too. Actually once, in France long ago, when going to a masked ball I went as a “marquise” with a powdered wig – I rented the outfit from a theatrical clothing company in Paris and it was fun. Your visit and comments are always appreciated.

Peter – Thank you for your kind comments. I would love to see a photograph of your electrical Solex as I have never seen one. Do you drive it in Paris?

maría cecilia said...

Hi dear, I´m so happy to meet you and I thank you so much for your lovely comment. I came about two days ago left you a comment but I don´t see it here (??)
Thank you for the trip to Vaux le Vicomte chateau, it is a great and wonderful place!
Maria Cecilia

Louis la Vache said...

«Louis» has visited Vaux-le-Vicomte many times. It is such a glorious place. «Louis» enjoyed this post very much.

Unseen India Tours said...

Another Beautiful Series of fantastic shots !! Loved the beautiful palace !!Unseen Rajasthan

PeterParis said...

Yes, I drive it in Paris... all the time! You can see it on a small photo at the bottom of this post:

Vagabonde said...

Maria Cecilia – No, I did not see your first comment but am pleased you could post the second. Thank you so much for stopping by.

Louis la Vache – I am pleased that you had a chance to visit Vaux le Vicomte. Always happy when you stop by.

Unseen Rajhastan - Thank you for the compliment. Your visit is always appreciated.

Peter – I did take a look at your updated Velo solex – it is a beauty.

Jeanie said...

I love each and every one of your photographs -- what a wonderful day to visit! But most of all I love the sepia at the end of this post. Your history is -- as always -- splendid (and far better than I recounted on my blog!). I may print this out and put it in my Paris notebook -- I think it's a better explanation than the official brochure!

Miss_Yves said...

Ce château est très réputé pour son histoire, ses jardin et son architecture, je ne l'ai pas encore visité, mais c'est dans mes projets!

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