Now I know what you’re thinking: “ugh another French château to visit? No thanks!” because, let’s be honest, after a while they all start to look the same!
I assure you, though, this is no typical château. Don’t expect any perfectly curated and maintained interiors or gardens, nor a walkthrough that leaves all the rooms crowded af (… looking at you Versailles).
Instead, expect to find an empty husk of yesteryear, an homage to what was and what could be, as well as some unexpected entertainment.
You may have noticed I describe this château in a way that is not so flattering, in a way that some may even perceive to be negative, but I just want to prepare you for the reality of the situation.
The château is in partial ruin. It has been for nearly 80 years.
BUT this is what makes the whole situation unique, you can witness first-hand the state of its decrepitude and contribute to its repair. As their website states: “each visitor has the power to contribute in their own way towards the construction works of the building: 1 entrance fee = 1 slate.”
In short, the château de Vaux is a wish, it is a vision for the future of the past.
What to Expect
I bet you were wondering, why name this post “Château de Vaux, Château de Jeux”? Or possibly, what the hell does that even mean? Let me clear some things up before we continue: I chose this title because it is the promotional slogan that the château itself uses and I happen to think it’s quite clever. The slogan means “castle of Vaux, castle of games” and that is exactly what you will find when you visit!
The château offers two types of games, both optional: an escape game as well as an outdoor games area where you can play different “arcade” style games.
The escape game is not of your typical kind since you are not actually locked in the building. You use a crossword (pictured) to help you find clues as you navigate throughout several buildings, so you are not confined in a space and you can go at your own pace (and as I mentioned, it is optional).
In reality, it is a murder mystery game that allows you to discover all of the (open) rooms of the domain. This year’s theme was “Les Enquêtes de Vidocq” (Vidocq’s investigations) and I think they did a great job to tailor the investigation around the building works being done at that time.
Although the game was somewhat lackluster and some clues were missing, we found it to be quite a challenge and we did not even fill our crossword entirely (though we did find out the murderer)!
Overall, we spent a fun afternoon at the château and we amused ourselves so much with the outdoor games as they are things we do not typically play so we found them to be challenging as well.
History of the Château
The Château de Vaux is located in the commune of Fouchères in the department of the Aube and is surrounded by the lush French countryside.
Although there are records of buildings previously on the site, the château you will encounter today is that designed for Jacques d’Aubeterre and his wife Henriette Hennequin. D’Aubterre was a Knight, a captain of the cavalry in the Regiment of Montperoux and a would-be count. To put it frankly, he was a rich and powerful man from a rich and powerful family.
Building of the château began in 1721 under the direction of the celebrated architect to the King, Germain Boffrand. Unfortunately, the château would not be completed under his supervision, nor to his design; despite being built in large part by 1752, the architect Philippe Delaforce decided to modify the plans. By this point, the entire building program was an absolute mess (to the point roofs were leaking) which placed a great financial burden on the family, so much so they ended up living on the land under a judicial lease due to all of the debt they had accrued.
The lineage of the Counts of Vaux died out in 1754 and in 1760 the château was sold to the family of Rémond de Montmort where it stayed in their estate until its sale to Charlemagne-Emile de Maupas the 27th of February 1855.
De Maupas would refurbish and restore the outbuildings and interiors of the château up until 1879. He is best known for his position as prefect of police for Napoleon III and his organization of Parisian police and military forces during the coup d’état of December 2, 1851. De Maupas also carried out multiple investigations on high-ranking Parisian civil servants and members of parliament through the use of numerous spies, including the famous Vidocq (hence the name of the mystery game).
De Maupas died on June 18, 1888 and left the château to his daughter, Marguerite, who died in 1939. The château is said to have stayed within the family until 1969, but was left unoccupied and left to fall into ruin for over 30 years.
Surprisingly, in 1970, it was purchased by a Parisian association who intended to use the domain for a medico-educational institute for young girls. Headed under Philippe Vallery-Radot, the association took to restore the entirety of the outbuildings of the château, while the château itself received a protective sheet metal covering to prevent any further damage to its interiors.
Since the early 1980s, the facades, roofs and wrought iron staircase bannister and entrance gates of the château, as well as the facades and roofs of the outbuildings, the dovecote and the driveway leading to the château have been classed as “monuments historiques.”
The devastated interiors and collapsed floors of the château have been the focus of numerous restoration attempts over the last 40 years, and more so recently with the sale of the domain to Edouard Guyot in 2015. Guyot is a young entrepreneur who has already had the pleasure of restoring several other châteaux in France with his family.
Why Should You Visit?
This is not going to be one of the most beautiful of the châteaux you visit, nor the most luxurious, but it will be the most unique, I guarantee it!
The escape game (although it is not a traditional one) is a great way to pass a few hours or spend a rainy day. And if you are still feeling in the mood to play, you can explore the outdoor games area where you can enjoy some not-so-traditional arcade games.
But as a stained-glass conservator and advocate for the preservation of cultural heritage, I have to say you should ultimately visit because every entry fee contributes to conservation and restoration efforts.
How English Friendly is it?
Unfortunately, for those without any French language capabilities, this is going to be a difficult visit for you to interact with. The game (which is optional), as well as any guide panels are all in French. To be honest, even we French speakers (my husband and I) had an issue with playing the game and the girl at the ticket office said others find the game difficult as well.
The only thing available in English is a visitor guide pamphlet (explaining the history of the domain and its parts).
The website is also only offered in French, so that is another point to be made.
However, if you are interested in just visiting for the architecture and grounds, I suggest going anyway (as always, you do not need any French skills to enjoy them!)
Tips and Other Information
The château is open from June-October every year and offers special night time murder mystery quests during the month of October; these must be booked online in advance. They look super fun, but we were not able to do that, unfortunately!
As well, château offers hunting on their domain (by reservation) and a reception hall and gîtes that can be rented for weddings (I assume you can also rent the gîtes outside of hosting a wedding as well).
In June 2021, they are hosting “Le Festival Electro Alchimie” which looks like it will be a blast.
In August 2021, they are hosting the “Festival Chasse & Campagne” (Hunting and Country Festival). It is a mixture of hunting, country life, lifestyle and gastronomy and seems to have a little bit of something for everyone, from a champagne and oyster bar to archery, falconry, and even a carriage ride through the park!
For more information, visit their website.
I hope you have enjoyed learning about the Château de Vaux and will give it a visit. If you do, let me know if you catch the murderer!