The Grand Controle Hotel Transports allows you to experience 18th century French court life
Queen for a day? For anyone who has ever dreamed of living 18th century French court life – like the one deliciously portrayed in Sofia Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette – the fantasy is now a reality. The newly opened hotel Le Grand Contrôle is located two doors away from the famous Golden Palace and is an official property of Versailles. It is the first hotel to reside within the confines of the most famous residence in France.
The property, which opened in June 2021, is managed by Airelles, the five-star luxury hotel group, which also includes intimate properties across France in Saint Tropez, Courchevel, Val d’Isère and Gordes. The two buildings that make up the newly opened property were empty for 20 years and last served as an officers’ club. In an almost total state of disrepair, the army returned the property to Versailles in 2016. The castle organized a competition between hotel groups and investors to obtain the right to develop and restore the leaky roof dwelling. .
With a rich history and rich in stories, the project was one of the juiciest to land. Originally made for the Duke of Beauvillier in 1681, it was designed by Jules Hardouin Mansart, the same gentleman Louis XIV chose to transform Versailles from a simple hunting lodge into a magnificent gilded palace. In 1723, the buildings officially became the Ministry of Finance under Louis XV. Here, taxes were assessed and collected. The king’s last and most famous tax collector was Jacques Necker, who held the post intermittently from 1776 until his ouster at the start of the French Revolution. There remains a corridor, now blocked, which led directly the finance ministers to the king at Versailles.
According to Julien Révah, managing director of Grand Contrôle, although small compared to other hotel conglomerates, Airelles had a great idea. “We competed with much bigger groups like Hilton, Accor, Marriott and won,” he told TZR, adding: “We think it’s because our proposal was a rendition of the decor of ‘origin versus something totally modern. ” The development marks the first time that a property belonging to Versailles has been leased for public use by a private company.
The result is not only a spectacular 14-room hotel dressed to perfection in decor from around 1788, but the experiences to live up to it. Upon arrival, guests are assigned a butler who will attend to needs during the stay and students of the school about the rich history of the hotel, castle and park. Not much for history lessons? Take an early morning jog or stroll through the pristine green spaces before guests visiting the castle are allowed in.
But the gardens are not the only pleasure. Anyone who has visited Versailles during tourist season knows that a visit to the main house can be as enjoyable as a 6 train bound for Grand Central during rush hour. Lucky Grand Control guests can roam the palace, including the famous Hall of Mirrors, after official closing hours in seclusion, away from the crowds.
Whitney Robinson, CEO of DW Northstar, a real estate development and design consultancy, and former editor of Elle Decor, knows it firsthand. He recently toured the property with her husband, Marc Karimzadeh of CFDA, on the recommendation of celebrity chef and colleague Alain Ducasse, who orchestrates the property’s restaurant. “Having exclusive access to L’Orangerie and the chateau, especially the Hall of Mirrors with no one other than my husband and I, is second to none,” he told TZR, highlighting the experience of unique welcome. “It makes you feel like you’re in 1721, not 2021.”
This is especially true for the Ducasse standards of candle light dinners. “It’s designed as a theater, a completely immersive and transporting hospitality experience, but one that is performed in a very authentic, professional and detailed manner,” continues Robinson.
Staff uniforms reflect traditional 18th century attire; men wear brocade vests, waistcoats, breeches and tights, while maids wear a corseted jacket and lively skirt, suitable for modern use. It’s done in a tasteful way that doesn’t evoke Disney kitsch. Guests can also have fun, explains Révah.
“We receive a lot of requests for themed costume parties such as the feast of Marie-Antoinette. We have outfit choices and provide 18th century style hairstyles and makeup with a photographer to capture it all. People love this idea. “
Of course, wedding requests are already pouring in for the venue, which can seat 60 for dinner or accommodate 100 for cocktails. “We asked a Russian oligarch to buy the property for two days. booked the property for two days, ”explains Révah.
Confused about what to do for New Years Eve 2022? Le Grand Contrôle is hosting an 18th century masked ball with a feast, but even using the covered outdoor pergola on the patio space is limited, so book early for the chance to ring in the French New Year.
Besides parties and private tours, there are certainly other ways to enjoy the Grand Control. A Valmont Spa awaits those who wish to be pampered like a royal in the basement of buildings. A modern 21st-century swimming pool is set in a room with brick walls juxtaposed with lounge chairs by the pool hinting at the Louis XVI style. In all public areas of the hotel, bowls of decadent fruit and platters of macarons are offered to guests.
The swimming pool and the rest of the building benefit from a geothermal heating system which gives the Grand Contrôle some of its eco-responsible assets. All food waste is composted and candle light dinners certainly use less electricity than light bulbs.
The most impressive is the upcycling of the hotel. More than 900 antiques have been recovered, authenticated by the curators of Versailles and renovated for the hotel.
The decor is inspired by an inventory of the castle found in the archives of Versailles. Thus, architects and interior designers knew the layout and the pieces to look for up to the tapestries on the walls. “The restitution of the decor was linked to what was in the palace in 1788 to be precise, just before the French Revolution”, confirms Révah by adding: “We knew who the suppliers were and were looking for these names.
For example, a chair made by the famous cabinetmaker Jean Baptiste Boulard, who held the Royal Mandate under King Louis XVI, has been restored in lush forest green velvet and can be found in the old courtroom, just off the hall. . “The same 300-year-old style of chair is in the palace, but you can’t sit on it. Here you can do it because we’ve restored it,” Revah adds. Robinson was equally impressed. “The antiques are amazing. The whole place makes it look like you’ve been given the secret keys to an apartment in Versailles – like Night at the museum,” he says.
The feeling extends to the seven suites and seven rooms, each uniquely decorated. One of the best rooms, the Necker Suite is mainly inspired by Suzanne Necker, Jacques’ wife, known for her eclectic salons where philosophers and Enlightenment thinkers such as Rousseau, Voltaire and Diderot debated and discussed society. In a fresh floral and pink-and-white striped color scheme, the 1,400-square-foot one-bedroom apartment has a bathroom with a claw-foot tub overlooking the gardens.
The hotel subtly encourages guests to slow down and live like an 18th century citizen. The rooms lack televisions and landlines. Instead, discreetly placed in a leather box, is an iPad with TV functions and a hotel directory, an iPhone as a room phone, and a portable speaker in case you’re in the mood to listen. something other than 18th century classical music which plays all day long or 17th century baroque music which sets the tone for dinner.
The Grand Contrôle dining room is inspired by Marie-Antoinette’s Petit Trianon with wall sconces directly inspired by those adorning the favorite residence of the young queen. Painted in a pale blue hue popular in Versailles, the three separate rooms were once the main offices of the Minister of Finance and his assistants. The original flooring, wall moldings and mirrors have survived in the middle room and the adjacent floors have been recreated to match. Original marble fireplace mantels have also been preserved throughout.
The small private dining room leads to the gate to enter L’Orangerie with a view of the 100-step staircase leading to the manicured gardens of Versailles. Rugs inspired by the tapestry of Pierre Frey Aubusson, official reproductions of Versailles in the Louis Philippe style as well as various portraits of Marie-Antoinette and landscape paintings from the French school, prepare the ground for the feasts of Ducasse.
And you will enjoy it. The lunch offer is either a three or five course meal tasting menu. Canapes, appetizers and king’s bread are served before the aperitif, such as langoustines with sorrel or foie gras with barley, apple and verbena. Meat dishes arrive in silver domed platters sliced beside the table by the waiters. The cheese is also cut into blocks of a cart. Chocolate lovers will delight in the 1724 signature dessert tart with gold leaf and praline sauce in the shape of a 12-petal flower.
Les Cent Marches is the royal fixed menu evening feast with two wine pairing options available to complete the experience. Make sure you fast and skip the free macarons to make this dinner. The starters are triple and include eggs with caviar and lobster aspic, followed by a fish dish, a meat dish and three sides. No need to think about a difficult desert choice; this meal includes three: honey from the Versailles park, figs and cheese, and the essential chocolate tart.
After hours visits can be useful to get out of that dinner. Others may choose to relax and soak up the history of the building where Benjamin Franklin negotiated financial support for the War of Independence through Necker. (Fun fact: The War Ministry building across the street houses a copy of the original Declaration of Independence sent to France immediately after Congress approved the document which has yet to be signed to signal to the French that as an independent country their support would be ‘don’t put them at war with Britain.)
Or come back to earth with a visit to the quaint village of Versailles teeming with antique shops and many humble but distinguished properties for sale. This may inspire making the “let them eat cake” lifestyle permanent in the 18th century. Free butler service and macaroons not included.