47km (29 miles) SE of Paris; 24km (15 miles) NE of Fontainebleau

This jewel of a castle comes with a story that reads like a Hollywood screenplay. Nicolas Fouquet, the chateau’s original owner, was a brilliant finance minister and lover of arts and leisure. In the early 1700s he was the toast of Paris; his penchant for pleasure and beauty drew France’s top artists and intellectuals to his gorgeous home in the country. Unfortunately, Fouquet underestimated the jealousy of his superiors, in particular the young king, Louis XIV.

A messy financial scandal gave his enemies an excellent opportunity to topple the much-admired minister; his fortunes took a precipitous fall one fateful night in the summer of 1661. As Voltaire put it: “On August 17, at six in the evening, Nicolas Fouquet was the King of France; at two in the morning, he was nobody.” Oblivious to the fact that the king was already fed up with his penchant for stealing the spotlight, Fouquet organized a stupendous party in his honor. He pulled out all the stops: Complete with a sumptuous meal, a play written and performed by Molière, and a fireworks display—no one had seen anything like it. Three weeks later, Fouquet was arrested on trumped-up charges of embezzlement. The king seized the castle, confiscated its contents, and hired its artists and architects to work on Versailles. Though writers like Madame de Sévigné and La Fontaine pleaded with the king on Fouquet’s behalf, the once-untouchable financial minister spent the rest of his life in prison.