Christmas’ Magic in French iconic chateaux, part one: Vaux-le-Vicomte – Meanderings through France n° 204
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
This year for Christmas time we invite you in three different wonderful French chateaux, Vaux-le-Vicomte, Cheverny and Chambord. Each one celebrates Christmas in its own way and welcomes all Christmas’ spirit lovers to come and enjoy a festive experience. You are all welcome, children and young at heart alike, to enjoy a very special Christmas season!
Vaux-le-Vicomte undoubtedly is one of France most famous chateaux. Built in the 17th century it was some kind of a revolutionary architecture and people of the time were truly amazed when they saw it. Just like we sometimes are when discovering futuristic new buildings built in the major cities of the world.
It was built for Nicolas Fouquet who was Louis XIV’s superintendent of finances. To build his dream castle he hired three genius of the time, the gardener-landscaper André Le Nôtre, the architect Louis Le Vau and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun. Years later the same three men were hired by King Louis XIV to create Versailles.
Unfortunately this 17th century masterpiece had to endure the ravages of time and by the end of the 19th century it had fallen into neglect. In 1875 Alfred Sommier who had made a fortune in sugar trade, bought the chateau. Once again money flowed in Vaux-le-Vicomte and the chateau and unique French formal gardens were totally restored to their past grandeur. It’s been a family house ever since and now belongs to Alfred’s great-grand nephew Patrice de Vogüé.
The Comte de Vogüé actually got the castle as a wedding present! It could well have turned out to be a poisoned gift since Patrice de Vogüé didn’t have the financial means to maintain the estate. Selling the family heritage was out of the question and Patrice de Vogüé took up the challenge. In 1968 he decided to open the castle to the public.
In those years this was already common practice in the UK, but in France aristocrats wouldn’t even contemplate the idea! Patrice de Vogüé’s decision was a big scandal in the family but he stood firm. The rest of the story has proven him right. Today Vaux-le-Vicomte not only is the largest private property in France classified as Historical Monument it also is a successful company able to provide the huge amount of money needed to maintain it (Euros 1,3 millions each year). Today Patrice de Vogüé’s three sons run the domain together, but he still oversees the life of his beloved chateau.
This year is the 14th year in a row that the castle is open to the public for Christmas. Creating special festivities for Christmas has been a great idea and people love it. New events are organised each year and more and more people go to Vaux-le-Vicomte, over 100,000 people are expected this year.
Being a family house since its renovation in the 19th century all the chateau’s rooms have been beautifully refurbished with period furniture, tapestries, bronzes, paintings, statues and many works of art. There are no fences or ropes to prevent you from moving around and this gives you the feeling to be a guest visiting friends rather than being mere tourists in a museum. In each room real fires are lit in the magnificent marble fireplaces and light scents of vanilla, chocolate, cinnamon, caramel… wrap you in a warm Christmas atmosphere.
This year from November 23 till January 5, 2020, the chateau will celebrate “Christmas in a thousand-and-one colours” and is turned into a Palace of Enchantment. The gardens, the former stables and of course the reception rooms of the chateau are filled with colourful Christmas decorations creating fantasy-like decor where the visitors are immersed in the magical Christmas atmosphere.
Figures are amazing! 170 Christmas trees, 10,000 decoration objects, 12,000 gifts offered to children under 7, 10,000 chocolate biscuits offered to children from 7 to 17, 4,000 metres of Christmas garlands… Inside the chateau the highlight of the show is a 8-metre high gilded and rotating manger scene surrounded with dozens of golden Christmas trees set in the impressive oval Grand-Salon. It took a team of five people working for six months to create this spectacular decor.
This year big novelty is a unique video show on the chateau’s façade. In late afternoon when darkness comes all visitors gather in the gardens to watch a monumental video-projection that covers the entire South façade. The animated images and exclusive sound track bring the chateau to life. The high silhouette of the chateau becomes a screen where 5 successive scenes evoke key moments of the history of Vaux-le-Vicomte. It’s a marvellous explosion of colours enlightening the darkness of the winter’s evening!
The gardens are filled with big lighted Christmas trees and children under 7 who will dare go out in the cold will be given a special gift-surprise. A food stand proposes hot beverages and Christmas specialities to warm you up. You can also enjoy your hot chocolate onboard of one of the carriages that take visitors on gay rides trough the park. Every day two golden hazelnuts are hidden in different places of the gardens and if you are lucky enough to find one you will be offered a bag filled with Christmas decorations made by Noël Goodwill.
Vaux-le-Vicomte celebrates Christmas from 23 November 2019 till 5 January 2020 from Wednesdays to Sundays. It will be open every day during Christmas holidays except on Christmas day and New Year day.
Vaux-le-Vicomte is easily reached from Paris by train. It will take you a little less than one hour from Gare de l’Est railway station in Paris to the castle gates. (a shuttle bus takes visitors from the nearby local station to the chateau).
Chateau entrance is free for children under 6 and is Euros 14 for kids from 6 to 17 and Euros 19.90 for adults.
Practical information and more at www.vaux-le-vicomte.com/en/vaux-le-vicomte-celebrate-christmas
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes