On Site: Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle

It’s one thing to visit the Palace of Versailles. It’s quite another to spend the night on the domain grounds: Indulging in a multi-course Alain Ducasse feast inspired by the Sun King’s royal soirées, exploring the gardens in the moonlight, slumbering in a sumptuously draped four-poster bed, and awakening to the sounds of classical music as your butler, conducting the “king’s wake-up call,” opens the curtains and presents crystal glasses of orange-scented almond milk. Bienvenue to the Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle, one of 2021’s most anticipated hotel debuts and an immersion into the artistry and pageantry of the erstwhile French royal court.    

Years in the making, Le Grand Contrôle is the first and only hotel at the Palace of Versailles, offering exclusive access to the UNESCO-listed landmark that draws nearly 10 million visitors per year. Not only can you take a complimentary golf cart for a spin in the gardens, or a boat on the Grand Canal, but you can also partake in exclusive, after-hours tours of the palace—also complimentary. Expert guides unlock the secrets of the king’s and queen’s apartments, Marie Antoinette’s hamlet, the Petit and Grand Trianons, and more. If you stay a few days, you’ll experience a different tour each day. Members of the Airelles staff, carrying lanterns and dressed in splendid period uniforms designed by Terre et Ciel, will escort you up the 100-step staircase to reach the palace entry. Nothing quite compares to the sight of the Hall of Mirrors, vacated of the day’s visitors, resplendent in its majesty.

Le Grand Contrôle

Le Grand Contrôle is the first and only hotel at the Palace of Versailles, offering exclusive access to the UNESCO-listed landmark.

The hotel itself is intimate in size but exhibits grandeur on a Versailles-size scale. Designed by famed architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart in 1681, Le Grand Contrôle was once the realm of the finance minister—the most powerful man after the king—under Louis XV and Louis XVI. Jacques Necker, the contrôleur for Louis XVI, even met Benjamin Franklin onsite to discuss support of the American revolutionaries in their fight for independence from Britain. After France had its own violent revolution, the building was used for various purposes before languishing empty, with a leaky roof and ruined parquet floors—in desperate need of a renovation. Hence in 2015, the Palace of Versailles invited bids for a hotel project to safeguard this important heritage; the winning proposal came from the LOV group in partnership with Alain Ducasse. The Airelles brand is a LOV subsidiary that takes its name from the original Les Airelles in Courchevel. This luxury hotel collection now comprises seven properties, including Airelles Val d’Isère (Val d’Isère), La Bastide (Gordes), Le Refuge de La Traye (Méribel), Château de la Messardière and Pan Deï Palais (Saint-Tropez).You’d be forgiven for thinking Le Grand Contrôle hadn’t been touched since the 18th century. A masterful restoration enlisted historians and craftsmen who dove into the archives to recreate a lavish royal world. Designer Christophe Tollemer took inspiration from the Petit Trianon, the Palladian residence where Marie Antoinette once frolicked, in reimagining rooms; the chandeliers, for example, are a direct replica. Using the last inventory dating from 1788, the decorating team sourced authentic objects from auctions and antiques shops and also commissioned new pieces to complement them. The tableware was recreated by the Royal Manufacture de Limoges based on models of porcelain plates used by Louis XV and Louis-Philippe, while Pierre Frey recreated the original wallpaper motifs in luxurious fabrics. 

Restaurant - Grand Cabinet at Le Grand Contrôle

The Alain Ducasse feast called Les Cents Marches is served for dinner. Shown here is the Grand Cabinet. (Renée Kemps)

Individually decorated and named for important characters in Versailles history, the 14 rooms and suites overlook the Orangery, the Pièce d’Eau des Suisses, and the palace itself. Note that the rooms are split between two buildings, the Grand Contrôle and the Petit Contrôle, the latter also housing the small but well-equipped gym. The rooms in the Petit Contrôle have lower ceilings and a cozier size. All rooms come with a complimentary minibar, generously stocked with drinks and snacks. There’s no TV but open a discreet leather case and you’ll find a tablet, mobile phone and Marshall speakers. 

Suite Necker -Le Grande Controle

In Suite Necker, guests can admire the Orangery while soaking in the free-standing bathtub. (Renée Kemps)

One of the most superb suites is named for Jacques Necker. Sprawling across nearly 1,300 square feet, the one-bedroom suite offers three different vistas framed by bay windows as high as the four-meter ceilings. Decorated with Versailles parquet floors, the entry hall opens into a vast living room equipped with a marble fireplace. The bathroom is so large it’s divided into two distinct rooms; you can admire the Orangery while soaking in the free-standing bathtub. From the elegant stationary and feather quill on the antique desk to the fresh floral bouquet on the marble-topped sideboard, the suite resembles a regal residence. Tip: The Necker Suite can connect with Room No. 102 to add another bedroom. For families traveling together, there are three suites that can accommodate four people (children on a sofa bed): the Paul de Beauvilliers, Loménie de Brienne and Marquis de Fouquet suites. Reach out to General Manager Julien Révah ([email protected]) for VIP bookings. Kevin Triboulet is the director of sales and marketing for Airelles. 

Le Grande Controle

The hotel sourced authentic objects from auctions and antiques shops and also commissioned new pieces. (Renée Kemps)

Another perk included with your room rate is an Afternoon Tea that would delight even Marie Antoinette. Think dainty croque monsieur sandwiches, leek with autumn truffle, pistachio Paris-Brest pastry, and the full rainbow of colorful macarons — to be enjoyed in your room or in the salon. Speaking of Marie Antoinette’s favorite treats, you can find displays of Ladurée macarons on silver stands throughout the hotel. A total of 170 are consumed at the property every day! But save room for dinner. The Alain Ducasse feast, called Les Cents Marches (100 steps) and priced at 280 euros, is a theatrical experience as waiters in period costume play a part and deliver round after round of courses: appetizers (like the Sun King’s favorite egg with caviar, plus lobster in aspic), meats and fish (like turbot with artichokes), and desserts including the signature, sun-shaped “1724” made with praline and chocolate from the Alain Ducasse Manufacture.

The resulting food coma may last until morning, but don’t skip breakfast, s’il vous plaît. This petit déjeuner is alone worth a trip to Versailles. The table is set with delicate croissants, pastries, and silver tureens of fruit salad. But this initial spread is soon crowded with round after round of additional gourmet treats. Starting with the vegetable broth the Sun King consumed before his meals, this exceptional breakfast continues with eggs, waffles, bacon, salmon, and enough edibles to fortify you for a day’s exploration at Versailles. 

Le Grande Controle Spa pool

The spa pool is decorated with marble, frescos and statues and is only accessible to hotel guests. (Renée Kemps)

There’s no such thing as too much decadence at Versailles. So why not continue the pampering in the subterranean spa? Airelles teamed up with the prestigious Swiss brand Valmont, renowned for its anti-ageing expertise, which developed exclusive treatments like the “Majestic Mirror,” a 90-minute sculpting facial complete with collagen mask. The 75-minute “Sun King” massage is another signature treatment, using hot oil by Maison Caulières. 

Note that the sublime pool — decorated with marble, frescos and statues — is only accessible to hotel guests but the time must be reserved in advance (it’s privatized). For bookings reach out to spa manager Justine Borget ([email protected]).

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