Last night we went to a very special evening at the Chateau Vaux le Vicomte. Every Saturday night during the summer, the Chateau is lit, inside and out, by literally thousands of candles, the ornamental fountains in the parterres are turned on and illuminated, music plays, dining locations are set up in the gardens, and visitors are given just a hint of what the Chateau would have been like during one of the fabled 17th/18th Century festivities.
We had failed to get dining reservations but we decided to take our own champagne and nibbles and picnic in the grounds and just enjoy the gardens and chateau. To be honest, the meals get a fairly low mark from visitors, although the locations are sublime.
A picnic it was! We took our champagne in a lightweight aluminium screwtop flask and I have to say it worked a treat, remaining ice cold and fizzy throughout the evening. Whilst picnicking is allowed and facilitated, once you are inside the grounds, you cannot leave and re-enter, so we didn’t want to be burdened with picnic stuff while we were touring the house. Lightweight was the order of the day!
We arrived at 730 and there seemed to be a lot of cars in the carpark but once inside anxieties faded. The gardens are so huge that they just ate up the visitors and most of them were just there for the gardens, not to tour the house as well. Sunset was at 830 so we walked down through the formal gardens enjoying the ornamental fountains which were playing from 730 onwards. There is great use of water at the Chateau: the moat, the circular fountain ponds in the parterre gardens, the canals and the great basin. All designed to reflect the beauty of the chateau, the sky, the fountains…. As we passed the moat, I noticed the giant carp for the first time. Absolutely monstrous. Huge! Quite a lot of them.
We wandered down through the gardens as the light faded into sunset and the candles started to flicker. Found a park bench to one side and set out our drinks there. We drank champagne listening to music from Les Mis – the Original Cast – and watched the fountains play and other visitors promenading past. Gradually the light fell and the candles really came into their own.
Our house tour was at 9pm and we wandered back to the front of the house where we were admitted (masks on). We opted to not take the audio headsets this time as we have done the tour just a few weeks ago and we wanted to concentrate on the beauty of the house lit in this unique way. It was relatively easy to keep distanced as we walked though and everyone was wearing a mask.
It was amazingly atmospheric to see the rooms lit like this and to glance out of the windows and see the park illuminated too. The candles seemed to pick up the beautiful painted and gilded walls and ceilings much more than the daylight did, and they glittered and shone in the flickering light. We noticed details that we hadn’t spotted on our daytime visit. It really was magnificent.
Inside the house (for fire reasons) the candles were not real but they were very good fakes, even down to the flicker. Outside the grounds were lit with what must have been paraffin wax candles with very thick wicks because although genuine flames, they remained illuminated despite a slight breeze.
I hope my photos give you some idea of the loveliness of the evening but I know without a tripod there is shake in them and they do not do it quite justice. We took about an hour to see the house and then came back out and sat in the gardens again. It was pitch dark by now and the Chateau looked spectacular, especially seeing it reflected in the surrounding moat. It was hard to tell where the solid stonework ended and the water began.
The evening was warm. I wore a short sleeved dress with a light pashmina. Bob was in a t shirt with a summer sweater. It wasn’t cold even by 1030. We left at that point rather than wait for the very short firework display that ended the evening. We wanted to avoid a carpark gridlock.
On the way home, we were compensated by a longer firework display which must have been coming from Disneyland, on one side, and a massive orange full moon on the other side. A magical evening. We would definitely do it again. Next time having seen the house and rooms illuminated, we might well take a more lavish picnic and just enjoy the romance of the exterior. Talking of romance, I note that it is possible to privately rent the belvedere on the roof of the chateau and enjoy a unique champagne experience up there. Popular for proposals I believe…