A French Christmas
by Neil Hennessy-Vass
Less than an hour south east of Paris is the inspiration for the Palace of Versailles, the incomparable Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, the traditional French garden house personified. Created by the finest artists of the day, the château is a masterpiece of ‘modern’ design. At the time of construction (which only took five years for house and garden) no other house in France looked like this or was laid out in this manner. Opened in 1661 with a lavish party it took society by storm. Still owned and run as a family concern since 1968 by the de Vogüé family, the three brothers having taken over from their parents in recent years and can still remember when it was their home. Alexandre, one of the sons showed me around the place pointing out where he used to eat his breakfast and where the TV was. Stately living indeed.
Opening the doors to a large country house was not something the French did, it was innovative and daring but it proved popular. You can visit 10 months of the year, in the summer take a picnic and watch the Saturday night fireworks and roam in the vast perfectly manicured grounds. In the winter wander the house and be amazed at the fastidiously detailed (and in some cases vast) Christmas decorations adorning the state rooms. The château has a lot to give in terms of art and artefacts on display. As night draws in the rear facade is used to project an historical narrative fantasy of the château accompanied by music. A fantastic show that is as enchanting as it is imaginative.
With a staff of 65 managing the main house along with a delightful restaurant and comprehensive shop. It is a far cry from the hundreds of people it would have needed to keep it going when first built. Now listed as France’s largest private historic monument (like the UK listing system) it attracts over 300,000 visitors a year. If you have a head for heights I strongly recommend climbing to the top of the dome in the centre of the building to go out onto the small balcony that affords a spectacular 360° view of the grounds.
And talking of views it’s quite possible you’ve seen the château on the big screen before. In the 1979 film Moonraker it was the home of Hugo Drax, one of James Bond’s many nemeses. An industrialist who plans to take over space lived here, although in the world of Bond the château has been miraculously transported to California! Not something the French government would grant an export licence for I think. Just as well, as it means you don’t have to go as far to see this fabulous building packed with Rococo, Renaissance and Empire influences. A real treat of a day out. The Christmas decorations go on until January.
Château De Vaux-le-Vicomte
Tel: +33 (0)6 75 34 53 87