Families visiting large cities in Europe, especially in the crowded summer months, are wise to plan a day trip out of the city center. It gives everyone a breath of fresh air, some space to run around, and an escape from long lines, full sidewalks and jammed public transport. In Paris, the beautiful but somewhat undiscovered Chateau de Vaux Le Vicomte provides just that type of respite with kids.
Visiting Chateau de Vaux Le Vicomte with Kids
France is a country known for breathtaking castles and stately homes. It’s hard to think of a place more famous and spectacular than Versailles, for example. But when it comes to historical significance and artistic achievement, the lesser known Chateau de Vaux Le Vicomte can compete with any of the more prominent names.
It was built in the mid 1600s by Nicolas Fouquet, an important finance leader in the French government. Despite being an extremely generous man and brilliant parliamentarian, he was falsely accused of embezzlement and later imprisoned for life by Louis XIV. This accusation came after an elaborate party held on the grounds of Vaux le Vicomte. The king wrongly thought Fouquet must have misspent funds to throw such an extravagant affair. Now, the beautiful chateau is all that remains of Fouquet’s legacy.
The chateau itself has left its own mark on French history. Its construction is considered to be the first example of an architect, an interior designer, and a gardener all working together in the design of an estate like this. The symmetry of the grounds matches the symmetry of the interior of the chateau. It also features corridors, or hallways, providing privacy as you move from room to room, something almost unheard of before.
A Chateau That Caters to Families
It is the grounds and gardens of Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte that provides families the kind of serene experience that the French countryside is famous for. Kids can run for what seems like miles down gravel paths, through ornate landscapes, and around beautiful fountains. They can spot fish in the decorative moats that surround the chateau, or pose near the stone statues of lions and cherubs that dot the gardens. If you want to see even more of the massive gardens, consider renting a clubcar for your visit.
Fortunately, the interior of the chateau is just as family-friendly. Younger children can even dress up in period costumes as they wander through the rooms. My children loved the dining room and kitchen in particular.
The chateau also offers children’s guidebooks for both the gardens and the chateau.
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This is a place that was practically designed for leisurely picnics, so consider stopping on your way to the train to gather supplies to eat in one of the two designated picnic areas (one of which has shelter from rain or extreme sun). You can also arrange for a basket to be ready for you at the chateau in advance of your visit but you must book that ahead.
If you’d rather not arrange your own food, then the chateau offers a family cafeteria, L’Ecureuil, near the entrance. The food is served buffet style, and you’ll find several kid-pleasing options on the menu like pasta and sandwiches. There’s also a high-end restaurant found within the gardens that is open on certain days when events are held.
Aside from the holiday period, the chateau is closed during the winter and open from March through early November. My family visited the chateau during the Christmas period, when the rooms were decorated from top to bottom in such a spectacular way that even my young boys’ jaws dropped. If you’ll be visiting Paris during the spring or summer, consider timing your visit around one of the candlelit evenings or other special events that take place there throughout their opening season (March through early November).
The journey to Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte will take less than an hour from Paris’ Gare de Lyon. From the ground floor of the train station, catch one of the trains heading to Melun, which will be about a 30 minute ride. The trains run every 30 minutes. You can plan your route using this website. From the train station, you’ll want to catch a white shuttle bus that will depart about 10 minutes after each train’s arrival in Melun. It will be parked across the street from the station itself. Finding the shuttle bus was the trickiest part of my family’s visit, but any train station employee will be able to point you in the right direction. The ride will last about 20 minutes. The shuttle bus departs hourly to bring you back to the station in Melun for your journey back to Paris. Just enquire at the entrance of the chateau as to departure times.
Alternatively, you can book a shuttle bus ride directly from Paris via ParisCityVision. This will combine a visit to Vaux le Vicomte with a visit to another chateau, Fountainebleau, for a full day excursion.
When the lines to the Eiffel Tower and the crowds at the Louvre have you contemplating fleeing Paris, a peaceful day spent strolling around the gardens and grand rooms of Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte is the answer.
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Editor’s Note: Photos by Nicole Wiltrout.