Chapter Seventeen – Nous Visitons Deux Châteaux Marveilleux
Day Seventeen – Why Are My Legs So Sore, Picture Perfect Morning, Hop On The Bus, André Le Nôtre’s Park, Don’t Overshadow The King, The Man In The Iron Mask?, Another Incredible Chateau, Versailles Moves To Third Place, What A Backyard, Where’s The Bus? and MaiTaiTom & MaitaiTracy’s Favorite Parisian Restaurant
Yesterday’s 12 miles of walking had its effect on my legs as we started an early morning stroll through the Garden of the Two Larrys. We were there early because we had a 9:15 bus to catch.
We stopped to say a quick “hello” to Joan of Arc.
The bus ride to Château Vaux le Vicomte took a little more than an hour. The daylong tour (which we booked through Viator) cost about $80 (including audioguides at each stop) a person. It was well worth the money. The château was the brainchild of Nicholas Fouquet, who was King Louis XIV’s minister of finance. Sadly, it didn’t end well for Fouquet.
On August 17, 1661, Fouquet hosted a fête at his new home, Vaux-le-Vicomte, to honor Louis XIV. He didn’t know that Louis had been convinced by Jean-Baptist (don’t call me Stephen) Colbert (who subsequently took Fouquet’s job) that Fouquet had embezzled millions of francs (he hadn’t).
There were fireworks galore as Louis and Nick (I feel like I know him) strolled through the gardens (designed by France’s famed landscape gardener André Le Nôtre). Molière’s play Les Fâcheux debuted that evening.
When he witnessed an estate grander than his own, Louis XIV must have been a little ticked off, convinced that Fouquet misappropriated the money for his own gain. Fouquet was unaware Louis and Colbert would soon have him arrested. Voltaire once wrote about the party, “On August 17, at six in the evening Fouquet was King of France, at two in the morning, he was nobody.”
The result (from the château website), “The ‘trial of the century’ dragged on, but eventually the judges voted to have him banished from France. However, Louis XIV intervened, exercising his prerogative to overrule the judges…the only time in French history this has happened…and imposed a sentence of life imprisonment. Fouquet was incarcerated in Pignerol, where he died on March 23, 1680.” Although it is thought by some that Fouquet was Alexandre Dumas’ “The Man in the Iron Mask,” alas, that is incorrect.
As an aside, Louis XIV must have been very impressed with Le Nôtre’s work, because he hired him to create the gardens at Versailles. This is his statue at Château Vaux le Vicomte.
We stopped in the Louis XV Bedroom.
The Grand Salon could host a grand soirée. Just don’t invite the King!
…and checked out the dining room that included a lovely Martha Stewart collection.
A small rodent on a tapestry caught my eye. Nicolas Fouquet was a man after my own heart. His coat of arms displays a squirrel. And as we all know, I’m nuts about squirrels.
Tracy asked whether I wanted to climb the lantern for €3. That seemed stupid because a lantern is only about a foot tall. I soon found that there is another definition for lantern. A lantern is “a square, curved or polygonal structure on the top of a dome or a room, with the sides glazed or open, so as to admit light.” So up the lantern we climbed.
By now my legs were back in shape, and somehow without tumbling to my death I made it to the top. We shot photos of the spacious backyard, which we would visit next. I wondered where they put the basketball hoop and built-in barbecue.
We took a long walk through the gardens.
From its website, “The formal gardens were laid out along a three-kilometer axis to create a stunning setting for the château and its outbuildings. Working in close collaboration, Le Nôtre and the architect Louis Le Vau produced the greatest 17th century example of near perfect harmony between nature and the built environment.”
We steered our way toward this statue…
Afterword, we took a quick trip through the Carriage Museum, which “houses carriages, teams of horses, coachmen, footmen and fellow passengers in settings that evoke the city, the country, and the hunt.” Fortunately, I didn’t stirrup any trouble in there.
It was time to leave that stable environment, but before leaving I needed to make a purchase at the gift store. Our bus companions looked at me a little funny when I entered carrying “Monsieur Squirrley” (the one I bought was not as large as the one in the photo). Tracy said if I bought this one, she’d be taking a taxi back to Paris.
It was a short bus ride to Château de Fontainebleau, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the largest of the French royal châteaux. I will tell you right now, if you visit Paris and want to visit one château, I’d skip Versailles and the hordes of people and come to Château de Fontainebleau (or even Château Vaux le Vicomte). Merveilleux!!!
Dating back to the 12th century, Fontainebleau “became a favorite residence and hunting lodge of the Kings of France because of the abundant game and many springs in the surrounding forest.” It was originally constructed by Louis VII, who had a passion for the arts.
Throughout the centuries, rooms were added, but by the 15th century it had fallen into disrepair. Fontainebleau was then substantially rebuilt and transformed in the 16th century by King François I. This was also the home to Henri II and Catherine de’ Medici. Catherine added more after Henri was killed in a jousting accident at the Place des Vosges. You can see their tombs at the Basilique Saint-Denis (photo from 2014).
Château de Fontainebleau was spared during the Revolution, but most of the furniture was either sold or destroyed. Napoléon had the palace both restored and refurbished. There are many artifacts for all the Napoléons that were donated by the family to the château.
Now it was time for us to visit the château. The audioguide here is tremendous and offers a wealth of information. We headed upstairs…
…and after stopping at a couple of rooms with pretty vases…
…we happened upon a military tent that was the one Napoléon used.
Empress Marie-Louise’s sitting room and nursery included a cradle for her little one, Napoleon II, who was given the title of King of Rome. I wondered why this nursery didn’t have plants, and Tracy scurried ahead of me.
The central bay in the antechamber to the Galerie des Fastes contained a gorgeous stained glass window. L’Artiste is the work of renowned stained-glass artist Charles-Laurent Maréchal. Napoléon III bought this in 1867.
What was on our plate next? None other than The Plates Gallery. This room dates back to 1840 and contains 128 porcelain plates hanging around, which tells the history of the château from its beginnings through the reign of Louis-Philippe. Some of the plates depict America, including one of Niagra Falls.
One of the more spectacular rooms is the Galerie de François 1er. This gallery served as a model for future palaces. It predates Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors.
The Neo-Renaissance style room for the guards was always located next to the royal bedchambers. The Salle des Gardes was built during the reign of Charles IX.
The giant fireplace with the bust of Henri IV was added in the 1830s.
There was another monumental Fireplace in the Ballroom, as well, complete with bronze statues copied from classical statues in Rome.
Sometimes there really is an elephant in the room!
Next we hit the Queen’s Bedroom. Luckily she wasn’t here. The doors have an arabesque design, and were made for Queen Antoinette before she lost her head.
Now it was time for the Throne Room, which reminded me I’d have to find a smaller version as soon as we got out of here. This was the former Bedroom of the King until 1808 when Napoléon made the executive decision to install his throne in the former bedroom of the Kings of France from Henry IV to Louis XVI. The throne is situated on the exact spot where the royal bed had been. It is the only French Royal Throne Room that exists today complete with its furniture.
By now I was so tired, I wanted to take a seat. “Not there!” Tracy exclaimed.
Finally we entered the Trinity Chapel. It was formerly a monastery church belonging to the Mathurin monks under Saint Louis. Later, it was re-annexed to the château under François I. More construction followed during this reign continued under the reign of Henri II. The roof was built when Henri IV took over.
It was time to take a stroll around the grounds since our bus wasn’t scheduled to pick us up for an hour.
The Grand Parterre is (from the château website) “the largest formal garden in Europe, created between 1660 and 1664 by André Le Nôtre and Louis Le Vau. It was Louis XIV’s greatest architectural achievement at Fontainebleau. The original intricate box hedge work in this French-style formal garden disappeared under Louis XV.”
The park extends to the stepped section by the Bassin des Cascades, the easterly edge of the park used to mark the limits of the royal estate. From the village of Avon, it was crossed by the main access road to the château.
Its current layout, “organized into a network of cascades and radiating pathways, dates from the creation of the canal under Henri IV.”
…walked to the other side of the château to Jardin de Diane, created during the reign of Henri IV was formerly the private queen’s private garden.
In the garden stands the bronze Fountain of Diana. Since Diana is the goddess of the hunt, there is a bronze statue of her with a young deer and some hound dogs. According to my sometimes reliable source (aka wikipedia), “It is a copy of an antique Roman statue, Diana of Versailles, which was given by the Pope to King Henry IV, and which is now in the Louvre.”
We were all told to be in front of the palace “promptly” at 5 p.m. to catch our bus back to Paris. By 5:15 the natives started getting restless. People were checking their phones for possible lodging choices in Fontainebleu. Finally, at 5:25 the bus “promptly” arrived.It took almost an hour and half to get back to Paris. Traffic is much better sitting in a bus rather than driving.
We said hello to the statue of Joan once again and scurried back past the space ship carousel to the hotel.
While we got ready for supper, Squirrley helped in opening our wine. We’re thinking of putting him through sommelier class.
Our 8:30 reservations had been secured a month prior for dinner at L’Ange 20, whose new location is near the Place des Vosges. It was our favorite restaurant in Paris on our last trip, and it was again. Our meal was so good, we groveled to get a reservation for the following evening. They couldn’t stand to see a grown man cry, so they made one for the following night (for more on our two fabulous dinners at L’Ange 20, please click on the name).
Tomorrow would be our final day in Paris.
Our nearly three-week adventure (and five-month trip report) was going to end. We told our feet, “Just one more day. Don’t let us down.” We’d scurry around Paris visiting various sites on another gorgeous day. For the most part we would have a wonderful time enjoying our favorite city; that is until Tracy discovered something that has her despondent to this very day.
Day Eighteen – The In Tents Place de la Concorde, I’m Thinking, Sac It To Me, Canal Zone, Master Locks, Where’s The Beef, I’m Here For The Soup, Mai Tai Tracy’s Kitchen Suffers A Setback, Dinner Outside My Comfort Zone and Final Thoughts (yes, it will really end)