The Chateau de Versailles has confirmed that it is planning to open a luxury hotel in the south-eastern corner of the palace grounds. The plan is to attract private funding to renovate three run-down buildings at the historic site.
Peeling paint and disrepair are not a common sight at the Chateau de Versailles but that’s exactly what the 'Pavillon des Premieres Cent Marches' (Pavilion of the First 100 Steps), in the south-east corner of the palace grounds, currently looks like.
But not for much longer.
The modest one-storey house, where an employee of the Chateau and his family currently live, will soon be renovated and transformed into a high-end hotel. The Pavilion is part of three run-down 17th century buildings earmarked for the luxury hotel project.
The Chateau de Versailles management confirmed on August 18 that private companies have been invited to tender an offer to renovate the three buildings – the 'Pavilion of the First 100 Steps', the 'Petit Contrôle' and the 'Grand Contrôle' – for a cost of between four million and seven million euros. The winning bidder will then have the right to run the prestigious site as a hotel for a period of 60 years.
Leading hotel chain, AccorHotels, has already expressed an interest in the project, according to a report in the weekly newspaper Journal du Dimanche.
However, news of the project didn’t appear to have reached some of the Pavilion’s residents when FRANCE 24 visited on Wednesday morning.
“I’m not aware of a plan to turn this house into a hotel. I’m staying here with my brother-in-law, who works at the Chateau,” said N’Goussoma, a woman who emerged from the Pavillion, to FRANCE 24.
The Chateau’s public relations service acknowledged that Chateau staff lived in two apartments in the Pavillion, but that they would be relocated to other staff apartments.
Sleeping in Versailles
The centrepiece of the potential new hotel, the Grand Contrôle, is a 1,700-square-metre mansion that served as the ministry of finance for much of the 18th century. While guests won’t be able to sleep in Louis XVI’s bed, they will have access to the rooms used by senior members of the king's council.
Despite its current run-down appearance, the compound has vast potential with some rooms opening onto the Orangerie garden, where Versailles gardeners grow oranges, laurels, myrtles and pomegranate trees. Other guests might even catch sight of the palace’s southern wing.
The site of the future hotel is highly popular with tourists.
From the top of the First 100 Steps staircase, Sandra and Gregory, a French couple from Normandy, told FRANCE 24, “It’s one of the prettiest spots of the palace. There are real fruits in the Orangerie and it’s a nice place to take a stroll. We didn’t feel overwhelmed by the crowds like when we were inside the Chateau.”
“Not sure our budget would allow it!”
The couple, who stayed in the nearby town of Buc for only 76 euros per night, like the idea that the company running the luxury hotel would fund the renovation. “We would love to stay in such a hotel but we’re not sure our budget would allow it!"
"Everything is expensive as soon as you pass the Chateau’s entrance - the price for bottled water, soda or snacks shoots up,” noted the French couple.
A couple from Singapore said that their main concern with the hotel plan was that it would preserve the Chateau de Versailles.
“If they need to open a luxury hotel to raise funds to renovate some of the smaller sites at Versailles, then they should do it because the most important thing is to preserve this place. But it shouldn’t be more commercialised. We don’t want to see McDonalds or that kind of things at Versailles,” Benjamin Wong, a 27-year-old healthcare worker, told FRANCE 24.
Renovation in return for (temporary) privatisation
The Chateau de Versailles’ PR team were quick to quash such concerns by pointing out that the renovation project will be strictly supervised by an architect from the National Monuments office. The winning bidder will thus have to respect the original structure of the buildings.
The privatisation, even temporarily, of national assets is contentious in France – even more so in a place with such historic importance like the Chateau de Versailles, which is located just a few hundred metres from the Hotel des Menus Plaisirs, where French revolutionaries abolished the privileges of the nobility on August 4, 1789.
A PR official at the Chateau de Versailles told FRANCE 24 that the three buildings involved in the tender were in a “peripheral position”.
“There are not any historical decors (furniture, tapestry, painted ceilings, etc.) inside and these buildings are not among those that interest the public. Our priority is to get these buildings renovated. We can’t have our heritage falling into ruins like this," said the PR official.
Her comments were echoed by a hotelier in Versailles, who wished to remain anonymous.
“Considering the state of public finances in France, it doesn’t bother me. I expect the winning bidder to create suites and offer rates similar to those of luxurious hotels in Cannes or Paris, at more than 3,000 euros per night,” the hotelier told FRANCE 24.
In pictures: Versailles plans luxury hotel to bolster finances
The Orangerie garden of the Chateau de Versailles is located next to the three buildings earmarked for development. Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
The Pavilion of the First 100 Steps is still occupied by the family of a Chateau employee. Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Benjamin Wong and Samantha Yeo hope that Versailles will not become to "commercialised" with the hotel development. The couple stayed in an AirBnB in Paris to "experience French culture". Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
The Grand Controle is the main building of the future luxury hotel. The 1,700 square-metre mansion was designed by famed French architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart. Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Flaking paint on the exterior wall of the Grand Controle. Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
A picture taken through the window of the Grand Controle. The winning bidder will have to redecorate the interior after renovating the building's structure. Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24.
Hundreds of tourists queue outside the main entrance of the Chateau de Versailles. It's one of the most visited tourist sites in France, with more than seven million people visiting the palace every year. Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Date created : 2015-08-19