A round up of books dedicated to grand palaces and residences in France that will make for fabulous gifts for the French-loving person on your gift list. Or as gifts for yourself.
Vaux Le Vicomte: A Private Invitation
Lovers of French history, architecture and gardens will surely know of the grand chateau called Vaux Le Vicomte. It was commissioned by Nicolas Fouquet, the finance minister of King Louis XIV. In building his “house” that would come to signify his power, wealth and stature, Fouquet enlisted the creative trinity of 17th century France: the architect Le Vau, the painter Le Brun, and the landscape designer Le Nôtre. (Vaux Le Vicomte’s magnificent formal parterre gardens and fountains would become the template for the gardens of Versailles). According to historical reports, Louis XIV was so overcome by jealousy at the sight of Vaux Le Vicomte and its grounds that he had Fouquet arrested and imprisoned for life.
In the book Vaux Le Vicomte: A Private Invitation the current resident of the palace Alexandre de Vogué gives readers a glorious tour of the many indoor and outdoor rooms through lavish photographs and historical accounts. Historical architectural plans and etchings, detailed imagery of the furnishings and ornamentations, and photographs of Le Vicomte in various lights of the seasons would have you feeling exactly what Louis XIV must have felt: utter and unadulterated jealousy.
Chateau de Haroué: A Great French Estate, A Family Home
Sometimes we are so enamored by the grandness of chateaux with their hundred rooms and thousand or so acres that we forget that they were once — and in some instances — still are family homes. Chateau de Haroué is one such home belonging to the noble Beauvau-Craon family. It was built over nine years by over a hundred workers in the 18th century.
“Haroué represents more than an old building seeped in history. It is my roots. In 1982, I had no idea how my life was about to change, how exciting it would become, while still being a challenge every day. I had become a link in a long, unbroken chain; suddenly in charge of taking care of this moment…;” write Minnie de Beauvau-Craon who took over Haroué when her father Marc de Beauvau-Craoon, the last Prince of Beauvau-Craon passed away.
In this book which details the history of the chateau, the owners decided to move away from the usual sort of photography that often accompanies books on impressive houses. Instead of all the pomp and pageantry, the photos by Miguel Flores-Vianna show a home that is lived-in with some of the gilt and the frescoes chipped, rooms with peeling wallpaper, corners piled with architectural remnants, boiserie panels splitting in parts, and decades – centuries even – of scribbles on walls. The result is a book that is warm and inviting and begs for many revisits.
Presidential Residences in France
In this lavish book, the historian Adrien Goetz and the photographer Ambroise Tézenas take readers on the residential seats of power in France. There is of course the world famous Elysee Palace with its elegant architecture and even more elegant rooms whose furnishings have reflected changing tastes (gilding in the 17th century, empire furniture with their swan embellishments circa Napoleon and Josephine, modern Pierre Paulin sofas from the time of the Pompidous to Philippe Starck and Lalanne decorations).
Two other presidential residences, perhaps little known outside of France, are also featured in the book: La Lanterne, a former hunting lodge located in Versailles, and Fort of Brégançon in the Riviera. La Lanterne is considered as a weekend retreat for France’s head of state. It is easy to make the comparison to Camp David, the US president’s weekend getaway. But unlike Camp David, official meetings are never conducted at La Lanterne. And high above a rock formation in the French Riviera is the fortress known as Brégançon, which looks out onto a picturesque blue seascape dotted by olive and laurel trees. Its interior decoration is a mix of antique and vintage furniture favored by the its evolving residents.