Despite all of the wonders and delights of Paris that I’ve discovered in my two decades of living here, even I have to begrudgingly admit that when it comes to “must see sights”, the reality can often be a huge let down compared to the fairy tale image many visitors imagined. Crowds, lines, noise, confusing signage, no restrooms, years of scaffolding for renovations, a lack of any helpful information in English, Artful Dodgers making off with your wallet…it seems there’s always something that ruins the “moment”. But not at Château Vaux-le-Vicomte.
A Unique Event
The first time I went to check out the Candlelit Evening was in 2013 with my wingman for the evening, Brian Spence (who many of you will recognize as the owner of the Abbey Book Shop in the Latin Quarter). Both of us had visited Vaux-le-Vicomte several times. I had very much enjoyed the decor at Christmas time when each room of the château is elaborately decorated and the gardens were blanketed in snow. Brian has attended several of the historic costumed events like Journée Grand Siècle, when the 17th-century atmosphere is recreated for the day.
I even attended one of the candlelit evenings when I brought a group of gardening aficionados from South Africa in 2011 for a private tour with the head gardener. It’s always a bit hard to relax and enjoy the “moment” when you’re working (and as much as I love being a tour guide, it’s still work…if you’re doing it right). But that’s not why Vaux-le-Vicomte often slipped my mind when thinking of places to recommend to my clients. It’s because it had always been a bit of a challenge to get there without your own car or as part of a group tour.
Best Chateau Visit from Paris
And when I wasn’t looking — oops! — that all changed. Along with a few other interesting improvements that now make Vaux-le-Vicomte a serious contender for Best Château Visit from Paris. And if you’ve been a longtime reader of the Secrets of Paris, you know I rarely throw the word “best” around lightly.
Planning Your Visit
I’ll go into a bit more detail below, but for those with short attention spans, here are the top points to consider for the Candlelit Evenings at Vaux-le-Vicomte:
- Accessible by public transport (train from Gare de L’Est to Verneuil l’Etang, then a quick “Chateaubus” shuttle)
- No crowds (even on the busiest day in summer it’s never swamped like Versailles)
- Gorgeous chateau and gardens illuminated by candlelight
- Romantic open-air restaurant and a Champagne bar in the gardens (or bring your own picnic)
- Fireworks show at the end of the evening
- An authentic, family-owned-and-operated French country château, the very one that inspired Versailles!
- Open every Saturday night May through October.
When you visit Vaux-le-Vicomte, you may not realize that some of the friendly faces helping out around the estate are the actual owners, the De Vogüé family. Alexandre, who co-manages the château with his brothers Jean-Charles and Asciano, gave us the tour and filled us in on all of the latest changes, including the shuttle from the train station to the château, the allowance of guest picnics in designated areas of the gardens, and the fireworks show every Saturday in summer.
Dining Options at Vaux-le-Vicomte
For dining, there is Les Charmilles, a semi-formal open-air dining overlooking the gardens (€65 and €81 menus; under an enclosed tent in case of bad weather), reservations a must; Le Relais de l’Ecureuil, a self-service restaurant next to the château entrance (about €20 for dinner; indoor and outdoor seating); Le Songe de Vau, a lovely Champagne bar with classical music and deck chairs (€14/glass of Champagne); and for romantics on a budget you can now bring your own picnic if you stay within the designated picnic areas (near the canal).
Alcohol is permitted (don’t forget a corkscrew!) but just keep in mind there is nowhere to “check” bags because of security issues, so if you don’t have your car with you, it helps if everything you bring is (eek!) disposable, so you don’t have to carry an empty cooler or picnic basket full of ceramic plates around with you all night. There are poubelles throughout the park, be sure to make good use of them!
If you go on Saturday, I recommend getting there a bit early so you can go up into the Dôme for panoramic views (it closes at 6pm) and get a good look at the gardens before the sun begins to set (be sure to get the night ticket if you plan on staying after the daytrippers go). Of course you can stroll through them with the candle lights, but the experience is as different as, well, night and day! You’ll have time for a glass of Champagne (and maybe a quick snooze in the deck chair) before dinner. The most crowded time in the château is after dinner but before the 10:50pm fireworks show (Alexandre said the longest wait was 30 minutes during this “rush hour”).
There are a few options for getting to Vaux-le-Vicomte. From Paris, take the train “P” from Gare de l’Est to Verneuil l’Etang train station and then pick up the “chateaubus” shuttle to the château (check the website for the schedule). There are usually taxis right outside the station (count on €20 each way) if you don’t want to wait. There are also chartered buses coming in from Paris, but they are only for day trippers, they’re gone before sunset. The only other option is to come by car, which is not totally unpleasant in the evening as long as you have a designated sober driver (those plane trees lining the country roads out there don’t need anymore bumps and bruises), and you’ll have a place to “store” your stuff (bulky coats, picnic supplies, sleepy children, etc). Parking is free.
For bedraggled tourists and urban-stressed Parisians alike, one of the best things about Vaux-le-Vicomte is that you really feel the peace and quiet of the French countryside. When you arrive at the château after driving through the forest, you’re welcomed by a grand entrance and sweeping views, not a hellish expanse of concrete filled with tour buses and street hawkers trying to sell you postcards. Geese fly overhead, the sound of birds permeates the gardens, and even when “crowded”, in the candlelit darkness it’s easy to feel like you’re the guest at a private party for a handful of people, not just a number being stuffed through a tourist site by grumpy, overworked staff.
Book Your Tickets
The Candlelight Evenings take place every Saturday night from May through October. You can get tickets online (and book your dinner if you want to be sure to have a place on Saturday night). You can also just walk in and stand in line for tickets, which gets longer as the day progresses. Tickets for the Candlelit Evenings are €20 (includes access to the château), €14 for kids under 18. The ultimate ticket to ride is the Annual Pass. At just €45 per year (€28 for kids), you get free entrance throughout the year, no lines, and access to special events. And of course you get to help support one of the country’s greatest historical monuments.
At the end of the evening when the fireworks show ended, the guests slowly began filing out of the château and gardens towards the shuttles where Alexandre was making sure everyone had a spot (taxis are on call in case of stragglers). Those who came in cars take their time, sometimes lingering in the gardens a bit longer than the official closing time of midnight. No one is rushing them at Vaux-le-Vicomte. There could hardly be a more magical place to visit on a warm summer evening!
Other Events at Vaux-le-Vicomte
There are other events besides the Candlelit Evenings worth noting, including Christmas festivities, the Easter Egg Hunt, and the Grand Siècle period costume ball and garden party. Sign up for their newsletter to get the latest news.