If you’re lucky enough to be in Paris during the holiday season, we highly recommend visiting the Chateaux de Vaux-le-Vicomte on a quick day-trip. Imagine the majesty of Versailles—gilded salons with frescoes by Charles Le Brun, French formal gardens conceived by famous landscaper Andre Le Notre—without the crowds. The Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte was, in fact, the original inspiration for the Palace of Versailles, and today it delights visitors with a jam-packed calendar of events that immerses you in 17th century splendor.
The castle is privately owned by the de Vogüé family, whose goal is to bring history to life. Often heritage-listed monuments are sequestered from the public in order to protect them, but here—visitors are invited to engage with history: dress in period costumes, warm their fingers by the crackling fires in the marble fireplaces, peek at the dining room table, set with fine porcelain for an evening meal…
Noël is simply magical. Every room is dressed to the nines with Christmas décor, the rooms are scented with cinnamon and spices, the façade and gardens illuminated with flickering lights, and a huge, 26-foot Christmas tree takes pride of place in the Grand Salon. A theatre troupe performs Pinocchio for the children, and classical music plays in the tree-lined alley leading to the chateau.
On a recent visit, we met with co-owner Jean-Charles de Vogüé who explained the family’s vision for the chateau they've painstakingly restored over the years. The tourist infrastructure was based on the model of many English estates, who host fun family events on their properties. Instead of closing during the winter, the Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte has become a not-to-miss Christmas destination. And annual events like the chocolate fair, Easter Egg hunts, and summer Candlelight Visits have proved to be a smashing success—drawing a loyal clientele of repeat visitors.
Open December 14 and 15, and every day from December 21- January 5, 2014, from 10:30 a.m.- 6 p.m. Access to the chateau—which is located 35 miles southeast of Paris-- is by car, train, or bus from the city center. For more information, visit www.vaux-le-vicomte.com. In the summer months, note that most of the visitor traffic is on weekends, leaving the weekdays empty of visitors. The chateau does host weddings (like Eva Longoria and Tony Parker’s), along with gala dinners.