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Vying for Visitors: Vaux vs

Le Château Vaux-le-Vicomte on Easter Sunday

Vying for Visitors: Vaux vs Versailles

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Monday, April 9, 2007
Paris, France

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Dear Parler Paris Reader,

Last week, when researching Baroque architecture for an article in French Property Insider, the privately-owned (by Alfred Sommier’s great-grandson, Comte P. de Vogüé) château Vaux-le-Vicomte popped up as a prime example. Even if you don’t know the correct meaning of the word Baroque, then you might use it loosely to describe something extravagant, complex or even bizarre. That sums up the art and architectural style of the early 17th to mid 18th centuries in Europe (during the reigns of Kings Louis XIV and Louis XV), marked by bold, curving forms, elaborate ornamentation, dramatic balance of disparate parts. You may certainly be familiar with Baroque music and if you’ve ever seen Baroque pearls, they are irregular in shape.

The research whet my appetite for a visit to the château, not having been there in years. It wasn’t difficult to orchestrate a group outing with visiting family and friends on Easter Sunday. Not only was the château open for visits, but was promoting an Easter egg hunt and other events taking place.

A pessimistic colleague warned that the weather is always lousy on Easter Sunday, but the optimist in me retained positive thinking for a glorious day — and so it was one of the prettiest days to have crossed our lives. The blue skies went on forever and the warm sun rays soaked in some badly need vitamin D.

To get there from Paris without a car, you can either take the RER D line or hop a regional train from the Gare de Lyon to “Melun.” Across the street from the station at Melun in front of a pharmacy and a restaurant, a Châteaubus shuttle will take you to the château. The shuttle schedule is not that frequent, so plan accordingly so you won’t miss it.

Some of our group took a car with a plan to meet at the cafeteria-style restaurant “L’Écureuil,” in one wing of the outbuildings. They were stuck in traffic getting out of Paris then got lost on the country roads making them 1.5 hours late. No problem…we weren’t the only ones with the same great idea to visit Vaux-le-Vicomte, hence the line for the cafeteria was very long…and worse than long, the wait was 1.5 hours to reach the food and check out. (The wait was caused by the absence of a cashier who obviously took his own lunch during the peak hour, a very poor system of ordering the daily special and what seemed to be the lack of supervision. To add insult to injury, the food was terrible and expensive consi

dering. My suggestion — pack a picnic lunch, but plan to eat outside the grounds of the château.)

The château Vaux-le-Vicomte was built between 1658 and 1661 for Nicholas Fouquet, the finance minister of Louis XIV. The architects were Louis LeVau and Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the gardens were designed by André LeNôtre. Fouquet was jailed shortly after the opening celebrations of the château, and Louis XIV afterwards employed the same designers for his palace at Versailles.

The Leonardo DiCaprio movie, “The Man in the Iron Mask” (based on Dumas’s novel), takes place in the 1660s, when Louis XIV was just beginning to improve his property at Versailles. The story goes that in 1698, a mysterious man was imprisoned in the Bastille. Almost no one seemed to know who he was, although residents of the French prison were usually important people who had fallen out of favor with Louis XIV. This man had been a captive of the government since at least 1687, and for all that time his face had been hidden by a mask. Parts of the movie were shot at Vaux-le-Vicomte. The king’s envy of the château led him to have Fouquet arrested and some people believe that it was Fouquet who became the Man in the Iron Mask. In the basement of the château is a replica of the imprisoned man in an iron mask…a bit creepy considering that adjacent is the beautiful kitchen and staff dining room!

After you’ve toured the main house in a circuitous fashion that brilliantly takes you out the back overlooking the magnificent grounds, take a stroll to enjoy the formal French garden with its perfectly designed and cut hedges and regal fountains. It was a perfect day to take a repose in the sun on the grass while the kids battled with flexible foam epees wearing 17th-century costumes.

Before leaving the château, where you are routed through the obligatory gift shop, there is a museum of a unique and private collection of 18th and 19th-century horse-driven carriages.

Most tourists put a visit to Versailles at the top of their list and of course, there is no dispute that Versailles is the grandest château of France, but in spite of this privately-owned monument’s failings (a few lessons from Disney wouldn’t hurt!), it should not be missed.

For all information including the schedule for the Châteaubus visit the official Web site at

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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P.S. Don’t forget to join us tomorrow at Parler Paris Après Midi from 3 to 5 p.m. at La Pierre du Marais! For more information, visit /parlerparis/apresmidi.html

P.P.S. For a sumptuous Sunday, on April 22nd, come to On Rue Tatin, Susan Herrmann Loomis’ 15th-century Norman retreat! Visit /frenchproperty/conference/on_rue_tatin.html for more information and to make your reservations.

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At the Base of Moulin de la Galette
By Adrian Leeds


This Week in French Property Insider…

The rue Tholozé runs uphill and dead ends to the old and now abandoned Moulin de la Galette in Montmartre, a place immortalized by Pierre-Auguste Renoir in his painting, “Le Moulin de la Galette,” painted in 1876 depicting a what he experienced as “people’s Paris.”...FPI Subscribers Read On…

Learn how to buy property in France. French Property Insider is an e-mail newsletter from the editors of Parler Paris. Learn all the insights, recommendations, and discoveries about buying and investing in real estate in Paris and France that French Property Insider readers get every week.

For more information visit /frenchproperty/insider

Or click here to subscribe now! frenchproperty/insider/members/signup.php

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We wanted better guides.
So we wrote them.

Insider Paris Guides are a series of electronically published, downloadable guides about Paris and France written by journalists and writers who live and work in, and love, Paris.

We cover specific, niche-interest topics that are difficult to find anywhere else. Get an insider perspective on Restaurants… Making a Life… Black Culture… Expat Writers…

For more information, visit

7th Paris Poetry Workshop
May 13 – 18, 2007

Paris, France

This is your opportunity to spend five days in Paris as a poet among poets. Over the past five years, the Paris Poetry Workshop has become a tradition in the English-speaking Paris poetry community, offering poets from the U.S., Canada and Europe the opportunity to come together for a week of intensive workshops, lectures and readings led by poet Cecilia Woloch. For more information visit /frenchproperty/conference/writing/poetry_paris_2007.html or contact Cecilia Woloch at [email protected]

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Parler Paris Apartments offers high quality accommodations to make your stay in the City of Light as enjoyable and memorable as possible. We at Parler Paris know each and every apartment owner or manager personally, and stand behind the quality of those we represent. We understand your needs and desires, all the small details that make a rental apartment a warm and welcoming home – and a much better alternative to an impersonal hotel!

Parler Paris Apartments is administered and serviced by the same great team as Parler Paris, French Property Insider and French Property Consultation. You can trust that Parler Paris Apartments and all those with whom it is associated will do their best for your 100% guaranteed satisfaction.

Ask about our lowest rates on last-minute rentals in April and May on Le Provençal, Attic Lumière, Panthéon, Burgundy and more! Email: [email protected]

Parler Paris Après Midi

Come for a drink and to meet and chat with other readers in Paris:

The next gathering is April 10, 2007 and every second Tuesday of the month.

So mark your calendars to be sure not to miss it! See /parlerparis/apresmidi.html for more details.

Special Note: The May session will be held on May 15th due to holidays.

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Practice speaking French and English. Make friends, discuss interesting topics, learn about other cultures, progress in understanding and speaking, naturally and easily. Meets three times a week — come as often as you like!

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