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Friday, July 10, 2009

A Chateau

Most visitors to France, cameras in hand and seeking a chateau for their visiting pleasure, may choose Versailles -- and that was tempting!

But we decided to visit a place Jerry really enjoyed -- Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte, located near Melun, about an hour south of Paris. Completed in 1661 for Nicolas Fouquet, the superintendent of finances for Louis XIV, it is a massive series of buildings, including a carriage house (with a carriage display), the main chateau and formal gardens.


Designed by architect Louis Le Vau and landscape architect Andre le Notre, the decorator was Charles Le Brun. Bad photo composition but you get the idea of the elaborate painted ceilings.

Wikipedia says "Their collaboration marked the beginning of a new order: the magnificent manner that is associated with the "Louis XIV style" involving a system of collective work, which could be applied to the structure, its interiors and works of art and the creation of an entire landscape."

When Fouquet purchased the estate in 1641, he was an ambitious member of Parliament, and at the age of 26, cultivated the arts and artists. After becoming Louis XIV's superintendent of finances, he commissioned the team to renovate the estate and garden.

One enters the estate through a dramatic arbor of trees, at the end of which the chateau comes into view.

The first stop is the livery stables, where an impressive display of carriages is featured.

Even the gas lights outside the building were rather grand.

Then on to the house itself. No, not house. I live in a house. This was indeed a chateau.

Everything here is very grand -- it was indeed a mini-Versailles in some ways, with elaborate furniture, use of mirrors, beautiful furniture and of course lots of gold.

The story has it that the beauty and extravagance of the chateau is what led to the downfall of Fouquet. Fouquet hosted a gala that included a Moliere play, a grand dinner, and full use of the finest china, crystal and accoutrements of grandeur. "Nothing is too good for the king," he may have thought.

He thought wrong. The celebration was so over the top that the Louis XIV believed his minister had been misappropriating public funds. He was arrested, acquitted and despite the acquittal, was imprisoned for life, after the king overturned the judgment.

(Louis, however, so appreciated the skill of Le Vau, Le Notre and Le Brun, that he commissioned them to design the palace and gardens of Versailles!)

The chateau has had subsequent owners and now is a private property, which of course is open for a rather hefty admission to help maintain the estate.

Maintain the estate. Here was the first element of "great attraction gone wrong." Yes, it was beautiful. Yes, the furniture was lovely, the mirrors glistened. The fabrics were sumptuous.

But you'd think they'd remove the cobwebs. Fairly unsightly and obvious ones, too. One didn't have to look to find them. We may not have seen the dust on the books in this library, but don't fool yourself -- it was there -- and on the chandelier, too.

The walls were a mess. I understand completely not repairing wallpaper or possibly chipped paint if the job can't be done up to restoration standards. But my Mr. Clean magic eraser (or any one of a number of more gentle solvents) would have easily taken the grime and dirt from the walls. It was very depressing. This bit of wallpaper was clean. I wish more bits were as tidy.

(If you click on it, you should get it larger to save and use in your work if you like!)
And the final element that sort of had us reeling was the "Disneyfication" of the place. Many of the rooms, such as this one, were in a pure and lovely state.

But others had maniquins with mouths that moved stiffly and poorly, telling the story of Fouquet's downfall.

In only one place did this work. In the grand ballroom, a movie took place behind the arch you see below. Several of the maniquins were in front (but didn't talk). In the movie, you saw and heard a dance, and it looked very lifelike -- as though you were peeking in on the dance from the chamber in front of the door.

We climbed to the top of the dome -- rickety, but with quite a view.

Have I mentioned that heights aren't my thing? You'd better believe I clung to that post!

Neither are windy spiral staircases!

But the view was lovely and one could see the gardens on one side, the moat, the carriage house, and the roadway.

(Frankly, these gardens don't do it to me like Monet's. Too contrived, too tidy. But I certainly had grand respect for the design.)


And, if the name of the chateau rings a slight bell with you, it may be that it was the site of "Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria and San Antonio Spurs player Tony Parker's wedding. (Could you imagine Eva on these steps?)

Would I recommend it? Maybe. It was certainly beautiful and I was glad I went. But before you shell out the hefty admission fee, you might want to think about if this is really the spot you want to visit. Even if the backgammon board is very cool!

Things I Learned Today:
Sometimes it's best to leave spots like this to traditional showings and give the Disney elements a pass.

I prefer the quiet simplicity of places like Monet's home to the elaborate glitz of a place like this.

Action figures in gift shops of places like this seem very out of place!

And I really should have bought a better camera before I left.

11 comments:

Mae Travels said...

I've been there a couple of times, but I've also been to the more famous ones (like Versailles, Tivoli near Rome, and the Chateaux on the Loire). I agree that it's not a good choice if you are only going to one chateau --but it's wonderful when you want a big picture of architectural influences.

Your description makes me think that they have added a lot of cheap frills. Don't forget that it's quite near to EuroDisney, so maybe they want spin off visits?

joyce said...

I can't imagine actually living in a place like that! But yeah, it is a shame that your only chateau visit was not up to standards. I think spiral staircases are cool...but heights are not my thing either.

anno said...

It does look austere, especially compared to the warmth of Giverny. As for the dirt, I've heard that Europeans like it: makes things look old, more antique .... It's that appreciation for older things that makes me think I might like to get there again someday.

Pam Aries said...

Jeanie..you do know you are living out my dream...right? Thank you so much for sharing these delightful photos !

ols1 said...

I know it seems overindulgent - but I just love all the beautiful colours and opulence.

~*~Magpie's Nest said...

I certainly am enjoying your travels Jeanie....your what I learned bits at the end are really great too!

BONNIE K said...

That spiral staircase would have done me in. I have enjoyed watching these snippets from your trip.

shoreacres said...

No, this just isn't my thing - although the black and white parquet floor with the fuschia whatevers did remind me of our finished basement during my high school years! We had black and pink tile and a pink freestanding bar - it was the times, but it's ghastly as I think back on it.

I don't mind big, old homes, but these just aren't for me. (See, I'm smart - saving Giverny for last!)

Beth said...

I thought the Chateau was pretty grand but it didn't sound so nice inside nor did it look that great.
But still the grounds and gardens looked awesome. I am scared of heights too so I would have been clinging to the pole too.
xoxoxoxoox

Joanne Huffman said...

It looks like the horrible climb was worth it. It sounds like it was definitely a mixed review kind chateau.

Joanne

jet1960 said...

Do you think they would let me live in the stables? The chateau is something else! Hard to imagine livng somewhere like that. The gardens are wonderful, too!

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