Friday, July 29, 2011

Chateau Vaux Le Vicomte

The Chateau Vaux Le Vicomte
We found out about Chateau Vaux le Vicomte from a post on Rick Steve's facebook page.  It looked interesting, the price was reasonable and it is close enough to Carrieres-sur-Seine to drive, so off we went.
Driving so near to Paris is similar to driving near any very large metropolitan area; crowded, chaotic, and when you toss in the language difference, down right crazy sometimes.  We made it just fine.  Our GPS, Bib, only made one error. Fortunately, we were backed up in traffic so we were able to make the correction before we had the chance to go the completely wrong way.
The Allee of trees leading up to the chateau.

Bill taking pictures in the garden.  This is much safer than standing in the middle of the road.
The road leading up to the chateau is an allee' of trees, planted a couple of hundred years ago.  Bill had to park, stand in the middle of the road and take pictures.  This is not the first time he has done such a thing, and it will not be the last.  Fortunately, the tour busses were not running as we arrived early.   One did come, just as he was getting back in the car.  The man has excellent timing!
Buildings like this on three sides of a courtyard were the stables for the chateau.  Now they are a museum.  There are matching ones on the other side of the chateau that originally housed a tapestry workshops.

View from the top of the Dome of the chateau.  The two courtyard buildings are on either side.  The moat is visable also, but the view of the entry courtyard is blocked by the roof in the center.
The chateau was built by Nicolas Fouquet, the Lord high treasurer of Louis XIV. He used the very best experts he could find, Le Vau, Le Brun, and Le Notre.  He was a little too good at making money and built a beautiful chateau comparable to anything owned by the King himself.  Irritated by such ostentation, the young Louis had Fouquet condemned to life in prison and confiscated his lands and money.  It doesn't pay to irritate the King.  On the other hand, Andre Le Notre, who designed the gardens and fountains, worked for the King for the next 40 years.  The most visible of his work are the gardens at Versailles.  The King enobled him in 1675 as a thank you for the beautiful gardens he designed.

Le Notre designed his own coat of arms;  three garden snails with a chevron, topped by a cabbage.  This was not a man who would overshadow his King.
The front of the chateau has a large courtyard building on either side.  The one we entered through was the horses stable, where there is now the Musee de Equipages, Carriage Museum.  The one on the other side contained weaving shops, another way Fouquet made money, which is not opened to the public.

The carriages were all later than those used by Fouquet.

A public carriage from the 1800's.

A cute two seater to be pulled by a smaller horse.

A carriage used by Louis Phillipe, the last Kind of France.

The chateau is centered on the property and set back from the work buildings.  It has an entrance courtyard surrounded by a moat, complete with water, but no alligators, just very large carp.  It is easy to imagine beautiful carriages pulling up to the front steps carrying elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen for a evenings entertainment, complete with dancing.   This house was built for parties!
A French family on holiday.  The daughters are dressed up in costumes that could be rented when one entered the chateau.  They were accompanied by their grandmere and parents.  Their father was taking a picture and when their mother realized Bill was taking one too, she was very pleased.  They really enjoyed their visit.

A drawing room with beautiful furniture.

A bedroom used by Louis XIV.

Madame Fouquet's bedroom.
This tiny fireplace was in a totally round room.
The gardens start on either side of the house and stretch down the back.  They were built on a natural downward slope, so the fantastic fountains at the back of the garden are visible from the house.  The landscape architect diverted the River Anqueuil to form a canal between the areas. A gallery dug beneath the hill, stores the water used to run the fountains.  That's a lot of engineering for 1656.

Proof we were there.

The ceilings are beautifully painted.

The ceiling in the Game Room.

Why have a plain door, when a decorated one is much nicer?

Fouquet's library.
The roof of the chateau contains a dome which was reroofed and reinforced in 1984.  Now, visitors are allowed to climb up into the dome to view the entire estate from the roof.  Spectacular!  This is something that would never be allowed in the USA.  These stairs do not meet any safety or fire code, but are well built and worth the any potential risks to life and limb. 

The contruction of the dome.

The stairs up to the dome.  They are as steep as they look.

An interesting set of figures for Louis XIV's France.

The kitchen is big enough to cook for very large gatherings.

The house servant's dining table set for dinner.  They were well taken care of, unlike the rest of the Third Estate.
Today, Vaux Le Vicomte is the largest privately owned home in France as well as being considered by many as the most beautiful chateau.  I think we enjoyed visiting the house as much as we did Versailles.  It is also possible to see Le Notre's influence in both houses gardens and fountains, but in Versailles he had more time and money at his disposal.  This explains why they are much more elegant and spectacular.   It would have been nice to see the fountains here running, but, we were there on the wrong day. C'est la vie.

The back gardens with fountains all the way to the end.  This was the view from the top of the Dome.

Classical French garden

Beautiful structure and color combinations.  There were viewing steps to stand on around the edge so one can see the design without climbing to the top of the dome.
This was also fun because I got to use my 60 plus ans discount for the second time.  Often in France, they do not give old age discounts, only ones to under 26, with under 18 being free.  When we were buying our tickets, the young woman asked where we were from.  "Tucson, Arizona, USA."  She sighed, "My dream is to someday go there."  We have found many people in Europe who would love to visit the American southwest, or who have visited there.  They all seem to know the Grand Canyon state.
The fountains would be even lovelier when running.

A Visit to M Monet's House and Gardens

The Monet Family home.  Yes, it really is pink with green shutters.
We have visited Giverny several time before; in the late spring, early summer and fall.  This was the first time to see it in the summer. The colors of the flowers in bloom change with each season, summer's colors being mainly pinks and blues with yellows and reds for contrast.

The original path from the water gardens to the main house.  The property is now divided by a highway through town.  To get to the water lillies, one walks through a tunnel under the road.

Beautiful pink flowers, I don't know the name.

No French summer garden would be complete without sunflowers.

Hollyhocks, one of my favorites. 
The house is furnished with Monet family furniture and belongings.  The walls are still covered with M Monet's collection of Japanese paintings.  None of his own, though, those were sold to support his family and gardening habit.  The book cases are full of horticulture books.  More proof that he had a gardening habit.  Good thing he paintings sold well.

Mary coming out the back door from the kitchen.  Yeah, I could live in this house!

The gates and signs are painted the same green as the shutters.
The water gardens are amazing. Looking out at them, one almost expects to see M Monet painting yet another water lilly subject.  The day was overcast with occasional sprinkles, so while covered in blooms, the lillies were not fully opened.

Monet's water lillies.

Water lillies, the same ones in Monet's paintings.
A funny thing kept happening while we were there.  People would see Bill, then get a strange, confused look on their faces.  Several exchanged conversation among themselves.  Finally, a Frenchman, after having Bill pointed out by his wife, said, "Bon Jour M Monet!"  Bill laughing reply, "Bon Jour!"  This is not the first time someone has thought he looked like M Monet.  In the Grand Palais, in 2008, a tour guide stopped him and asked to take his photo next to a picture of Monet.  There is a striking resemblance.  

Even the chickens in Giverny are special.




Thursday, July 28, 2011

La Bords du Seine

Chateau La Roche- Guyon looking down on the village.  It has an interesting history, including being Rommel's headquarters during the Normandy invasion.
The first time Bill and I traveled to France, we spent our last night, before heading to the airport, in La Roche-Guyon, a small village on the Seine.  It was a logical choice, as the drive into Charles DeGaulle was about an hour.  It was also a choice of the heart, as I fell in love with the pictures of pictures on the Hotel St Georges's website.  Several years later, when we were traveling with our two children, we stayed again on our final night before driving into Paris.  Both visits, we ate at the restaurant in the hotel, La Bords du Seine.


The hotel with it's new name sign.
 The hotel name has been changed to La Bords du Seine, to match the restaurant.  There has been updating to both the interior and exterior, but what has remained the same is the quality of service and food.  Plus the prices on the hotel rooms still seem very reasonable.  When Bill and I took a day trip to visit M Monet's home in Giverny, it made perfect sense to stop in La Roche-Guyon for lunch, since it was on the way.  Ok, even if it had been a bit out of the way we would have stopped!

A swan on the river.  I always get such a thrill seeing wild swans.

Fishermen with their long poles.
We arrived early for lunch, which gave us time to take pictures and get a look at a few of the locals.  The Seine is big river, used for transportation of cargo.  There were men fishing, so I started looking for signs of fish.  The water was clear enough to see the smaller fish closer to the banks, as well as fish coming to the top to catch insects.  The flowers were in beautiful bloom after several days of welcomed rainfall.

I think he was looking for fish, too.  He was very well trained, responding to hand signals from his owner.  When it was time for him to go home, he sat for her and raised his paw.  She put a treat on it, which he held very still, then he was allowed to eat it off the paw.

One of the barges we saw pass.
It started sprinkling again just before lunch. Rather than get too wet, we sat on their front patio area while waiting for the dinner bell to ring.  Perhaps better known as the church bells.  We were the first customers, but were soon joined by about 40 others, all locals.

I wonder if Fiat will have this color when they start selling in the US?
This was our one 'splurge' French lunch, aperitifs, entre, plat and dessert, with rose wine to drink.  Bill's entre or starter/salad, was a dish with eggs, green beans, cucumbers in a white sauce.  Since he is allergic to cucumbers, those were piled on the side while he ate the rest; declaring it delicious.  I had the Salade du La Bords du Seine.  Green salad in the center topped with a slice of fois gras.  Around the edges were green beans, carrots, bacon, and walnuts, with a sprinkling of wonderful vinegrette. Our plats were roasted duck legs with roasted potatoes and tomatoes and a bit of green salad.  All of this was included in their Plat du Jour for 13euros.

Our lunch.  It's out of focus, but even fussy is makes me drool.

Desserts, again out of focus, but don't the pink glasses look nicely in focus?
 The server returned with the dessert menu.  What to do? What to do?  What could we do?!  We ordered dessert, of course!  Bill's was a creme brulee with a strawberry custard on top, all served to look like a sail boat!  I really splurged with the profiteroles; little puff pastries cut in half, filled with vanilla ice cream then alternately topped with chocolate sauce and whipped creme.  If I ever have to choose a last meal, these will be dessert!

Mary concentrating on her camera.  Didn't really help.  See above photos as proof.
On our way out of town, we passed by the troglodyte dwelling dug out of the hill side.  Originally, these were houses, but now are mainly used for storage and, in one case, a business that repairs furniture.  I stayed in the car while Bill stood in the middle of the road taking pictures.


Troglodyte caves carved out of the limestone cliffs.

Still in use hundreds of years later, thanks to the addition of electricity.