An evening visit to the Chateau Vaux Le Vicomte is definitely one of Graeme's favourite excursions, and although its around 90 minutes each way in the car (much further than we normally travel), all the guest's we've taken have loved the experience.
Built in the 1600's, today Vaux-le-Vicomte is privately owned by the de Vogüe family and ticks all the boxes for a quintessential chateau: imposing architecture, sumptuous interiors, rich history, cute moat (stocked with HUGE fish) and expansive gardens. And best of all it's not crazy crowded (Vaux receives approximately 300,000 visitors per year compared with Versailles 10 million!)
But what makes our time here so memorable, is the 2,000 candles that are lit throughout the chateau and gardens - giving you the unique feeling of how the chateau would have looked for a glamorous evening soiree attended by the French king himself.
Step back in time
It's impossible not to feel a bit awestruck as we walk up the stone steps to the Chateau's grand northern entrance hall. You have the option to take an audio-guide, which provides in-depth information about each room and the furniture in it, or join Claire or Graeme for an atmospheric stroll through the chateau's rooms and history.
The ground floor is made up of the formal rooms, including the King's Bedchamber, the parlour and the stunning double height oval salon with it's doric columns. Upstairs the private apartments are no less impressive with intricately painted ceilings, tapestries and exquisite antique furniture.
During your visit you'll also discover the story of Nicolas Fouquet, who commissioned the chateau as his home and was thrown in jail by the King just months after it's completion and the chateau's links to some famous names in French history and culture including; Louis XIV, Colbert, Cardinal Mazarin, D'Artagnan, Molière and The Man in the Iron Mask.
Interesting fact: Filming for the recent BBC/Canal+ period drama Versailles was shot here at Vaux, rather than Versailles itself!
Explore the gardens
You'll have caught views of the gardens from the windows whilst visiting the private apartments, but the view really hits you as we leave the chateau via the south terrace. And with the woodland surrounding the gardens there are no modern buildings spoiling the view.
Originally designed by the landscape architect Le Notré, who went on to create the gardens at Versailles, the gardens are in the formal French style with flower beds and low hedges used to create eye-pleasing patterns.
The best (and most fun) way to explore the gardens is by golf cart - the gardens are over 1.2km long and this way we can cover much more ground. There are 63 classical sculptures dotted around the garden, dating from the 17th to 19th century and numerous fountains.
Water plays an important part in the garden's design and the view of the chateau reflected in the Great Mirror Pool is the perfect photo spot.
If there's time before our dinner reservation the Carriage museum in the stables is also well worth checking out.
Dinner with a view and a grand finalé
You'll be dining al-fresco on the terrace overlooking the chateau and we will time your reservation so that the sun sets during your meal. And the evening ends with a spectacular firework display at 11pm.