Nearly six million people traipse through the gardens and Hall of Mirrors at Versailles annually, braving lines and elbowing through crowds.
Let us tip you off to an alternative: before Versailles, there was Vaux le Vicomte, a lesser-known château that makes an easy day trip from Paris and offers a more blissful, intimate experience. It’s been cared for by the same family for five generations.
This summer is an especially fine time to head off the beaten path since Vaux le Vicomte is celebrating the 400th birthday of André Le Nôtre, who designed the formal gardens, pioneering the use of perspective and geometric patterns. (Keep an eye out for optical illusions and pools, fountains, and canals as you stroll the grounds.) He caught the attention of Louis XIV—the Sun King whose simple tastes called only for the best—and was hired to put his experience to work at Versailles.
Vaux le Vicomte is open to the public for guided tours—including July 14, Bastille Day—and hosts a special exhibition about Le Nôtre. Until October 5, a champagne bar in the garden adds to the festive mood, as do the more than 2,000 candles that illuminate the property at nightfall. They provide the mood lighting for dinners al fresco at Les Charmilles restaurant (advance reservations recommended).
A direct train departs every 30 minutes from Paris’s Gare de Lyon to Melun, and shuttle bus service recently debuted; get the details about planning a visit here.
Kate Appleton is a Senior Digital Editor at Travel + Leisure. Find her on Twitter @k_appleton.