The high-roof Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, partially surrounded by a moat, is set well back from the road behind iron railings topped with sculpted heads. A cobbled avenue stretches up to the entrance, and stone steps lead to the vestibule, which seems small given the noble scale of the exterior. Charles Le Brun's captivating decoration includes the ceiling of the Chambre du Roi (Royal Bedchamber), depicting Time Bearing Truth Heavenward, framed by stuccowork by
sculptors François Girardon and André Legendre. Along the frieze you can make out small squirrels, the Fouquet family's emblem—squirrels are known as fouquets in local dialect. But Le Brun's masterpiece is the ceiling in the Salon des Muses (Hall of Muses), a brilliant allegorical composition painted in glowing, sensuous colors that some feel even surpasses his work at Versailles. On the ground floor the impressive Grand Salon (Great Hall), with its unusual oval form and 16 caryatid pillars symbolizing the months and seasons, has harmony and style even though the ceiling decoration was never finished.
The state salons are redolent of le style louis quartorze, thanks to the grand state beds, Mazarin desks, and Baroque marble busts—gathered together by the current owners of the château, the Comte et Comtesse de Vogüé—that replace the original pieces, which Louis XIV trundled off as booty to Versailles. In the basement, where cool, dim rooms were once used to store food and wine and house the château's kitchens, you can find rotating exhibits about the château's past and life-size wax figures illustrating its history, including the notorious 19th-century murder-suicide of two erstwhile owners, the Duc and Duchess de Choiseul-Praslin.
Le Nôtre's carefully restored gardens, considered by many to be the designer's masterwork, are at their best when the fountains—which function via gravity, exactly as they did in the 17th century—are turned on (the second and final Saturday of each month from April through October, 4–6pm). The popular illuminated evenings, when the château is dazzlingly lit with 2,000 candles, are held every Saturday from early May to early October. Open for dinner during this event only, the formal Les Charmilles restaurant serves refined cuisine with château views (reservations essential). At other times, L'Ecureuil (a more casual eatery) is a good choice for lunch or snacks. You can also bring a picnic to enjoy in the extensive gardens.
Vaux-le-Vicomte, 77950, France