There are fantastic opportunities for exploring the famous French countryside while on an urban getaway to Paris. One that’s off-the-beaten path is the Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte, a private castle situated 35 miles southeast of Paris. (This is where Eva Longoria and Tony Parker tied the knot.) While the Palace of Versailles is often packed with visitors, this chateau—the embodiment of 17th century French opulence—can be oohed and aahed without the crowds. Between 1656 and 1661, Finance Minister Nicolas Fouquet enlisted top talent to design it: architect Louis Le Vau, painter Charles Le Brun and landscape architect André Le Nôtre, who also landscaped the Jardin des Tuileries, the Jardin du Luxembourg, and the finest gardens in the Ile-de-France region.
Some 18,000 workers built the Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte in five years, and legend has it that Louis XIV was so jealous when he attended the housewarming party (as the guest of honor), that he threw Fouquet in jail and started building his own pad at Versailles. Hence, the Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte is said to be “the one that inspired Versailles.” And one peek at the lavishly decorated rooms—with frescoed ceilings by Le Brun—and you’ll see why. Stretching as far as the eye can see, the peaceful gardens are perfect for a stroll.
Admission is between 11 and 16 euros, and the chateau closes annually from November 12th to December 21st, 2012 (except for merry yuletide weekends in December). Tip: In the summer months, the chateau hosts “Candlelight Evenings” every Saturday from 8 pm to midnight. This is the chateau at its prettiest: lit by 2,000 flickering candles both inside the state rooms and outside on the grounds. Visitors can enjoy Champagne on the terrace and listen to live Classical music. For more information, visit www.vaux-le-vicomte.com