Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte

Left the hotel about 9 am this morning; it was cool at 14 degrees. We drove over to Vaux-le-Vicomte and found that it didn’t open until 10 am. Rather than sit in the car we headed over to the little town of Blandy to see their fort. Yes, it was a restored fort with a small chateau and also closed until 10 am. But the church was open and we spent a few minutes in there, walked around the fort…Jim says I should say a completely walled castle….took a photo of an old mill wheel in a park and then headed back towards Vaux-le-Vicomte. We saw a church steeple in the distance and turned that way to find the thirteenth century church of St. Martin’s.

Then we turned around again and headed for the Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte…..it opened a few minutes after we arrived. So nice; not crowded with tour buses and tourists during the week primarily because it is difficult to reach. You really get the feel of a 17th Century Chateau as it is located miles from anywhere in the middle of a forest with acres and acres of gardens. The history behind this fabulous chateau is connected to Louis XIV. Nicolas Fouquet, who built Vaux-le-Vicomte, was his Treasury Minister. Fouquet held an open chateau to celebrate his creation and invited Louis XIV and his court to attend the party! Bad idea….others convinced the King that Fouquet must have stolen money from the government and he was arrested and spent the rest of his days in prison. The movie about the man in the iron mask is loosely based upon this story.

Louis XIV promptly hired the Fouquet’s architect Louis Le Vau, his decorator the artist Charles Le Brun and landscaper Andre Le Notre to transform his hunting lodge of Versailles into the palace that exists there today….rivaling all of the grand chateaux of the day. It is definitely bigger and costlier but not more beautiful than Vaux-le-Vicomte. But Versailles is now sitting in the middle of town! Easy to get to but you don’t have the feeling of 17th century.

Since we’ve both toured the Chateau before we thought about just doing the gardens but decided to spend the extra euros and tour the whole Chateau again. We wandered through from the basement to the top of the bell tower; spending nearly two hours inside of the Chateau. It is beautifully furnished; many documents regarding the history were explained in both French and English. Fouquet was held at both the Chateau de Vincennes and The Bastille and I’ve included photos of both drawings that were on the walls. We visited the Chateau de Vincennes when we were in Paris and there is nothing left of the Bastille except for a rock on a corner in Paris. There were a few mannequins staged and one of them must have been a Disneyland creation as he almost looked real! His eyes, mouth, forehead and neck all moved as he talked. Jim enjoyed the attic leading to the bell tower with the many models and drawings of the construction of the house. The views from the top were great. If you look at the view of the gardens….we walked allllllll the way to the back….it took forty five minutes each way!

After we left the house we walked everywhere in the gardens. Towards the back there was a long lake and the only way was to walk all the way around it….which we did….and then up the hill to the statue that one can barely see from the house. We ate our picnic lunch under the statue of Hercules…even did a photo using the timer. I’ve put three photos of the Chateau from the statue….the first is normal and then two using the telescopic lens to give you an idea of the distance we walked.

And then we walked another forty five minutes back; toured the stables to see the display of carriages after pausing to notice that the moat actually has water in it. Then it was back to the car at 2 pm. What to do….it’s still early. Looked at the maps and decided to head for Provins.

Provins is another ancient town about thirty minutes away from Melun. They have a Cite Medieval that sits on the top of the hill. About a third of their original wall has been restored and it was a very interesting place. Provins is a Unesco’s World Heritage town and puts on Medieval show events during the summer. Many people come out from Paris for the day to see these places. Yes…we’re actually very close to Paris. Other than lots of old buildings we visited Caesar’s Tower; built in the 12th Century to protect the Earl of Champagne’s palace. Today it is the bell tower for the other site we visited: the 12th century church, Collegiale Saint-Quiriace. The church is rather sad as after fires and other problems over the centuries, the rose windows were cemented in and never replaced. But, lots of history; Joan d’Arc visited this church in 1429 when she was campaigning with King Charles VII.

Back on the road we drove to our hotel in Melun and arrived about 5 pm. It’s turned out to be a hot day…about 24 degrees this afternoon. We actually dug our hats out to wear while we walked the gardens in Vaux-le-Vicomte. Some of you may wonder about the speed that we’re moving these days. We were actually planning to go home on August 1st….but because of problems scheduling our free air mile tickets we’ve ended up with a couple of extra weeks. We decided to visit this area especially to see the Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte. Should you have the opportunity to see this one…don’t miss it! Along with Chateau Chenonceau, they’re our favorite.

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