Though his reaction was extreme, Louis XIV’s jealousy is not too hard to understand when you are standing in front of Vaux-le-Vicomte; the edifice is the epitome of 17th-century elegance. The castle was eventually released to Fouquet’s widow and has remained in private hands ever since. The ancestors of the current owners, Jean-Charles and Alexandre de Vogüé, bought the palace in 1875, when they started a much-needed restoration program to restore Vaux to its original splendor. The chateau is now entirely restored and filled with splendid tapestries, carpets, and art objects.

One of its most impressive rooms remains unfinished: the oval Grand Salon, which Fouquet never got a chance to paint or furnish. Here, you actually don’t miss all the decorative trimmings; the bare white pilasters and detailed carvings have a classical beauty that stands on its own. For something more ornate, the lavish ensemble of chandeliers, brocade, and painted ceiling (by Le Brun) that is the King’s bedroom was a model for the King’s Apartments in Versailles. The Salon des Muses also gets a fabulous ceiling by Le Brun, as well as several fine tapestries covering its walls. To help imagine what Fouquet’s dinner parties were like, take a stroll through the elaborately decorated Salle à Manger (dining room), where a table is set with stacks of rare fruits and gold candlesticks, and a sideboard displays a set of extraordinary majolica. You can see life on the other side of the banquet table downstairs in the kitchen, with its humbler servants’ dining area.

The gardens are almost as spectacular as the chateau. The carefully calculated geometry of the flower beds and alleyways makes this a study in harmony, even if you couldn’t call them exactly natural. Nature is lurking close by, however—the entire ensemble is surrounded by seemingly endless kilometers of forest. Just behind the castle are two enormous beds of boxwood that have been trimmed into elaborate designs; Le Nôtre took his inspiration from the patterns in Turkish carpets. The far end of the gardens is crossed by a large canal, which you don’t even see until you are just about on top of it. Here you will also find a series of grottos, each sheltering a statue of a different river god. Finally, from the last basin, turn around and take in the lovely view of the gardens with the chateau rising in the background.

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Vaux by Candlelight

To give you just an inkling of what Vaux looked like on the evening of the famous party Fouquet threw for Louis XIV back in 1661, visit the castle when it’s illuminated by candlelight. On Saturday nights from May to early October, some 2,000 candles illuminate your evening visit. From 5pm until midnight, you can visit the castle’s interior, stroll in the gardens, and enjoy a firework display with classical music (20€ adults, 18€ students, 16€ ages 6–17, free for children 5 and under). Top it off with a meal in the chateau’s cafeteria (main courses around 14€), or the gourmet garden restaurant, Les Charmilles (fixed-price menu from 59.50€).