Bonjour mes amis!
On March 30th, I went on my last field trip with IES to Fontainebleau and Vaux-le-Vicomte. I can’t believe that this trip has come and gone. Back at orientation (which in itself feels like years ago) I felt like this trip would never come because we’d have so many things to do in between. Now time really is flying! I loved both castles and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect.
Fontainebleau is situated south of Paris and only a 45-minute bus ride away. Before Versailles, Fontainebleau was the main castle for all French royalty, and even after Louis XIV, Fontainebleau still remained part of the Empire as Napoleon dearly loved it.
In the 16th century, Francois I invited a lot of Italian artists and architects to convert the original hunting lodge into a Renaissance palace. Over 49,400 acres of forest surround Fontainebleau, which made it popular for hunting. Natalie, our IES director, told us one of the French kings (Louis XV, if I’m not mistaken) had over 200 hunting dogs, and killed 13,000 deer within a year or so at Fontainebleau.
The castle is glorious and grand. When walking up to the Chateau, one can’t help but feel weird because Fontainebleau is no longer alone in the forest. Tons of little shops and restaurants surround the main gates, making the chateau look very out of place. The grand staircase (in the shape of a horseshoe) is where Napoleon stood and bid farewell to his army before his exile to Elba. Inside the chateau there is still Napoleon’s original throne room that has remained untouched, and the only throne room in France to have been kept the same as it was when the royal or Emperor occupied it. (Every other throne room has been changed to suit another royal or Emperor or destroyed).
I felt that Fontainebleau had a more masculine touch as there was more wood paneling and darker decor used rather than the frou-frou rococo at Versailles. The ceilings were by far my favorite part because they were much more intricate and more unique than Versailles. After viewing the castle and listening to the audio guide, we had a tour of the gardens, which have an incredible pond and a beautiful fountain amidst the geometrical plots of grass. Not quite as beautiful as Versailles, but still a great place to soak up the sun and walk where Royalty once walked.
Vaux-le-Vicomte, the chateau I studied last semester in my Baroque art history class in the Meadows Museum, was built by Louis XIV’s prime minister Nicolas Fouquet. This chateau was regarded as the most glorious thing ever before Versailles. When Fouquet held a banquet in honor of King Louis, little did he realize he was sealing his fate with death. This party had a dinner, play and firework display (which was extremely rare to have back then) that showed guests having such a great time that later Royals and aristocrats would try to rival this party. Having been upstaged enough, King Louis became green with envy and jailed Fouquet immediately afterwards and ordered him put to death. (It was later found that Fouquet was using France’s money for the renovations to his chateau.)
Voltaire sums it up best, “On Aug. 17th, at 6 in the evening, Nicolas Fouquet was the King of France; at two in the morning, he was nobody.” Louis XIV then went on to re-do Versailles and top Fouquet’s chateau forever.
I would have to say out of all the chateaux I have seen, and I have seen many this time around (Versailles, Chantilly, Compiegne, Fontainebleau and Vaux-le-Vicomte), Vaux-le-Vicomte wins for the best gardens. To be fair, I have seen Versailles twice now in the winter so I can only imagine (or watch Marie Antoinette and Midnight in Paris) what the gardens there look like in the spring time.
We walked through the castle with yet another audio-guided tour, and my favorite part was seeing the dining room and kitchen because the curators of the chateau put a life-sized video display of people from the era of Fouguet dancing as if one were actually part of the banquet hall festivities. In the kitchen, there were life-sized mannequins of kitchen maids and fake plastic food to show how everything was prepared, which was neat to see and understand how everything was made back then.
Afterwards, my friend Savannah and I toured the gardens. We walked down to the water fall and canal to meet up with other students in my program. As we left for Paris I couldn’t help but smile at all the beauty from the chateaux, gardens, and the quiet, yet mysterious, forests surrounding these places.
My next travel will still be in France as I will be going to Giverny, Reims, Carcassonne and the South of France for the month of April!
Au Revoir for now,