Our fantasy getaway? Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, a circa 1661 castle just a 50-minute drive from Paris
Calling all Francophiles. Visiting Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte may require a long travel day—thanks to its 12 hours or more of flying time from Denver International Airport, plus another hour in the car upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle …but, like the hours spent making your own buttery croissants and pain au chocolat, it is absolutely worth it.
“I have been twice, in the summer of 1997 and February of 2018,” says Jaala Sheldon, a Colorado native and the event planner and designer behind Jaala & CO. “You start to realize you’re somewhere special as you approach via the road lined with trees, all of which are perfectly planted and towering into the sky. Arriving at the gates of the château takes your breath away as you witness the architectural masterpiece. The magnitude of the structures and garden are incomprehensible. The history of how it came to be is fascinating and the preservation through all the years of wars and revolutions is miraculous.”
Sheldon isn’t overstating it. Not even a little bit. The team behind it—André Le Nôtre, gardener of the King, and architect Louis Le Vau—did such an exquisite job when they built the 100-acre grounds in the 17th century that the duo were later enlisted by Louis XIV to erect Versailles. (Yes, that Versailles). In all those centuries, only four families owned the magical grounds before it became open to the public by the current owners, the de Vogüé family, in 1968. These days, the interiors are perfectly preserved. “I love to explore the various rooms of the château (especially the Grand Salon) and learn about the history of Nicolas Fouquet and poet Jean de la Fontaine amongst others,” Sheldon says.
One of her favorite activities? Wandering the manicured gardens, which as she says, go on for days. “It doesn’t get much better than taking in the fresh air while walking the pathways of this extraordinary place,” she says. “I enjoyed being surrounded by the perfectly curated garden and studying the fountains and statues as I dreamt about what it must have been like in the 1600s as a guest.” Hollywood directors, who know a star when they see one, have filmed movies and TV shows aplenty here. You can see Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte in the 1979 James Bond film Moonraker and 1998’s The Man in the Iron Mask.
The cherry on top is having a French picnic with a glass of wine or Champagne while taking it all in. After a picnic, it’s especially satisfying to walk to the far end around the Grand Canal to get a closer glimpse of the monumental Farnese Hercules, [a gold gilt statue of Hercules]. He’s HUGE, but he looks very small from the back steps of the château! Then, turning around and looking back from where you’ve just come from to take in the stunning beauty and scale is amazing. That’s when you realize the true magnitude of Vaux le Vicomte and its stunning beauty. It makes one feel very humble but full.”
Her plan—visiting again, and soon. “On the first Saturday of every month from June to October, they light up the château and gardens with thousands of candles”—some 2,000 flickering candles, to be exact, which are lit to recreate an infamous party that was held on the estate on August 17, 1661. This summer, the château is also offering this illuminated evening on Fridays from July 8th through August 27th, ball gowns not required. “I have not experienced this magic yet but hope to this summer.” Did we mention a day ticket to the grounds costs a mere $19? Say it with us, Mais Oui.
Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte