Vaux le Vicomte
A day trip from Paris to Vaux le Vicomte by public transport might seem a little daunting, but it is not that difficult and is well worth the effort. It is slightly off the beaten track for most people visiting France (who are more likely to be visiting Versailles) and you will be rewarded with an amazing and yet intimate chateau with fantastic gardens. You can also combine the trip with a visit to Blandy les Tours.
The chateau was built in the mid 1600's for Louis XIV's finance minister. Nicolas Fouquet. It's construction bought together, for the first time, the landscape designer Andre Le Notre, the architect Louis le Vau, and the painter-decorator Charles le Brun. Together, these three men developed at Vaux le Vicomte what was to become known as the "Louis XIV style". The magnificence of Vaux le Vicomte eventually led to Fouquet being accused of missappropriating public funds, being stripped of his wealth, and being sent into exile. However the three men responsible for its design (le Notre, le Vau and le Brun) were bought together again to work on the palace and gardens at Versailles.
What to see
There are a number of interesting parts to the chateau.
The main attraction at the chateau is the building itself. It is fully furnished and visitors are able to visit the state apartments, the private apartments, the dining room, kitchens and the cellars. For an extra fee (2 Euro) you are also able to visit bedrooms and private apartments.
It is also possible to climb the dome for a great view over the gardens. This is highly recommended unless you are claustrophobic (there are some tight spaces to fit through to get up to the top), although it is closed for renovation until late 2012.
The Andre le Notre designed gardens are excellent for strolling through. It is also possible to rent a golf cart to explore them, but if you are in reasonable fitness walking should not be an issue. The gardens have a 'homely' feel about them and you can feel Fouquet's attention and passion that he put into directing the construction of both the gardens and the chateau.
Finally, there is a horse driven carriage museum (before you enter the chateau itself. The museum displays carriages and equipment from the 18th and 19th century. This is included in your ticket price for access to the chateau so it is worth a quick look even if you are not interested particularly in the topic.
Finally, the chateau has a number of special events. Twice a month the fountains play, and every year they hold a candlelight evening with fireworks in remembrance of the fateful party held by Nicolas Fouquet for Louis XIV. Details are on the chateau's website.
Things to do
How to get there
To get to Vaux le Vicomte the first step is to get to Melun. This can be done by either taking the RER D (Green) line from any stop within Paris (major stops are Gare du Nord, Chatelet, and Gare de Lyon) or a regional train from Gare de Lyon. The regional train is quicker as it has fewer stops and is probably the preferable option.
When you arrive in Melun there are three options for getting to the chateau.
The easiest is a taxi. The ride is 6km from Melun to Vaux le Vicomte.
From mid-April to early-November there is a shuttle bus that is timed to leave from Melun train station (opposite cafe de la gare) 15 minutes after the arrival of the train from Gare de Lyon (not the RER). The bus costs 7 Euro for a round trip and also includes Blandy les tours as a stop meaning you can visit both on the same day on the same ticket. Be aware of the timetable of the bus and that the last bus leaving Blandy les tours is 18h55.
The final option is to walk to Vaux le Vicomte. It is 6km and should take around 1 - 1.5 hours. It is a nice walk through farmland and countryside. It is possible to combine walking with either the bus or a taxi.
The details for a day trip from Paris to Vicomte
Approximate Distance from Paris: 47km/29mi
Time to get there: about 30 minutes to Melun then it depends on the onward transport you choose (see below).
Transport Method: RER D line or TER train line from Gare de Lyon to Melun then either bus, shuttle, taxi, or walk.
Approximate Price: Entrance to the chateau is 14 - 16 Euro per person, 7,80 for the train.
Worth: 3 - 4 hours.
Website: http://www.vaux-le-vicomte.com/ (available in English)