Those who faithfully follow the guidebooks on Paris and its environs will undoubtedly find themselves journeying 10km south west of the capital to Versailles to discover the Sun King’s gilded emblem – an impressive if grandiose symbol of royal power and excess that attracts over 3 million visitors each year. The grandeur of the palace and its interiors aside, the biggest draw is unarguably the lushly manicured gardens that stretch for 250 acres. But few are aware that this 17th century French Formal Garden style for which Versailles has come to be recognized was, in fact, a copy.
Landscape architect André le Nôtre was commissioned by French Finance Minister Nicolas Foucquet in 1656 to transform the gardens and grounds of Vaux-le-Vicomte, the property Foucquet had acquired, into a majestic extension of a palace fit for the king. Le Nôtre set out to design a modern but formal garden style that would exist in perfect harmony and symmetry with the architecture of the Château itself. His work remains iconic in large part given his ambitious desire play with perspective and scale. Optical illusions were employed to embellish the grounds and encourage visitors to veer off and explore the subtleties that lay beyond the immaculate parterres and allegorical statues.
If you find yourself in town for Bastille Day weekend, head to the Château to celebrate Le Nôtre’s 400th anniversary with a candlelit stroll through the gardens and a spectacular fireworks show guaranteed to enchant.