Friday, March 19, 2010

Cruising the Countryside

We assumed when we came to Paris that we would take advantage of the easy transportation to visit other places in France and in Europe.  Wrong.  We've been so ridiculously happy (or maybe lazy) here in Paris that our short visit to Prague and longer winter getaway to Morocco have been our only excursions.

Last weekend we finally got it together to get out of town, driving with G. and M. to Vaux-le-Vicomte, a pretty chateau with aan interesting history.  Its original owner, Nicolas Fouquet, built it with no expense spared and invited Louis XIV to the housewarming.  This was perhaps not the wisest thing he'd ever done, since Louis begain to wonder how Nick had paid for it all.  Nick being Louis' money manager, you can imagine where that investigation led.  I'm not sure exactly which prison old Nick spent the rest of his life in, but does it really matter?

As for the wisdom of impulsive decision making, our decision to go there wasn't too brilliant, either.  Upon our arrival, ready for lunch, we discovered it was closed for spiffing up, and would open at the end of this month. 

Plan B had us driving to Barbizon, a town just barely on this side of kitsch, which rests on the laurels brought to it by the painters known as the Barbizon School in the 19th century.  I can only assume they make more money from these artists now than the artists themselves ever made when they were alive.  There are plaques all over the place attesting to the previous tenancy of various painters.

Millet, the best known by far, has had his studio preserved.  Others rate only a small plaque on the streetside wall of the house they lived or worked in.  I would object to anyone calling me a Philistine, but I'd have to Google to find out who these artists were; they're not household names, at least not in my household.

This fellow rates a much more elaborate memorial, placed by his Hungarian compatriots on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his death.

Our tour of the town was delayed however until we found somewhere to have lunch and there impulsivity was rewarded,  The charming lady running La Boheme seated us after a bit of a wait, apologizing over and over for the inconvenience to us of her restaurant being completely full of families enjoying their Sunday lunches. 

When we finally joined them in the dining room which looked to have been preserved exactly at it was in 1903, we discovered that the food was as good as we had hoped.  After a leisurely lunch of soupe de poissons served with its classic accompaniments of rouille, grated cheeses and croutons, followed by boeuf bourguignon or confit de canard and finished with profiteroles, all we could do was stroll the slightly too cute main street long enough to be able to fit ourselves back in the car, filling it rather more than before, and head back to Paris.

Now that's a country outing.


Anonymous said...

Still haven't been to Vaux le Vicomte. Is it worth renting a car to see it? (Or can I skip it?)

Shelli said...

As you read, I didn't actually get to see it, but I recall loving it when I did see it, many years ago. I was also there for an outdoor opera several years ago, which was magical. It was performed on a stage built in front of the chateau, which was lit behind it.

If you do rent a car, it's not very far north of Barbizon or Fontainebleau, or even Moret-sur-Loing, a charming little town, so try to combine the visits. I have no idea if there are trains that go there. Check with

dotallen said...

Shelli and Gene,

We have been to Vaux-le-Vicomte twice, and would strongly recommend a return visit, particularly if you can schedule your visit for a day when you can take the night tour as well as the day tour. Both the gardens (accessible by golf chart) and the chateau are truly lovely, and much easier to feel "at home" in than Versailles. Also, there is some suggestion that Nick ended up being the man in the iron mask. We're enjoying your blog, both for the glimpses of France you provide us and for the pleasure of knowing how happy you both are in Paris. Bisous, Dot

Kristal said...

L'Ecole de Barbizon is famous in painting and art history ! the impresionists movements has its roots deep into it.They were the first to paint outdoor after long years of clasicism. It's a cutural must see, anyway.I am glad you visited it.