Versailles' Extraordinary New Hotel: Le Grand Contrôle


The Château de Versailles, King Louis XIV’s immense royal residence 11 miles west of Paris in the Île-de-France region, is the third most popular site in France after the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. Most people visit Versailles on a day trip, which is something we’ve done many times. But to be honest, this has always been an exhausting and rather overwhelming outing because there’s so much to see that a single day can’t possibly do the place justice. Two days are required for a leisurely experience.

Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle

View of the gardens of L’Orangerie from Le Grand Appartement, Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle
View of the gardens of L’Orangerie from Le Grand Appartement, Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle - Renée Kemps

On our previous visit, we stayed at the Trianon Palace, a property now owned by Waldorf Astoria and recently subjected to a disastrous renovation. Fortunately, with the opening of the 14-room Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle, Versailles finally has a hotel of tremendous charm and luxurious comfort worthy of one of France’s most famous destinations. Since it opened in June, the property has become one of the most sought-after in France, as it offers an intimate and refined approximation of what life was like in the Château de Versailles during its heyday.

Arriving at the hotel by car in the middle of a summer afternoon, we were surprised to find ourselves ushered into the stone-paved courtyard of a handsome 17th-century house on a quiet street running parallel to the château. We’d read several articles — written by people who clearly hadn’t been there — which claimed that the hotel is located within the Château de Versailles itself. It’s not. Instead, it occupies three 1652 brick-and-stone buildings — Le Grand Contrôle, Le Petit Contrôle and the Pavillon des Premières Cent Marches — built by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, King Louis XIV's favorite architect, as offices for his court’s finance ministers. The buildings are located on the edge of the Château de Versailles complex, overlooking the gardens of L’Orangerie, where the potted citrus trees that spend the winter in a solarium are arranged in an elegant open-air garden during the warm-weather months. The gardens of L’Orangerie open onto the park of Versailles, from where the château itself can be reached via a monumental stone staircase.

The hotel’s proximity to the château facilitates private visits to the chambers of Queen Marie Antoinette, plus access to a private guided tour of the Petit Trianon every morning and after-hours entry to the Hall of Mirrors. Electric golf carts are provided, which can be used to visit Versailles’ vast gardens, and there is even an electric boat to take a tour of the park’s Grand Canal. In short, the variety of bespoke experiences is outstanding. The fact that you’re staying just steps away means that you can visit the château early in the morning before coach parties arrive, or at the end of the day when they have departed.

Necker Suite, Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle - Renée Kemps
Necker Suite - Renée Kemps
Bath in the Necker Suite - Renée Kemps
The Valmont spa pool  - Renée Kemps

Our welcome from the reception staff was charming, and after the check-in formalities, they showed us around this jewel box of a property, explaining in great detail the painstaking work that had been necessary to transform the building into a hotel. Not only were all the moldings and oak parquet floors renewed, but a search was undertaken across Europe to recover pieces that were originally at Versailles. We began at the beautiful indoor pool in the Valmont spa and concluded our tour on the private terraces and patios overlooking L’Orangerie.

Each room is named for a prominent personality at Versailles, from Jacques Necker, finance minister to King Louis XVI, to Madame de Staël, the famous novelist, essayist and confidant of Marie Antoinette. All are individually decorated. Paris architect and interior designer Christophe Tollemer oversaw the renovation project and decided to use the year 1788 as the visual benchmark for the interiors. (It was in 1788 that Marie Antoinette tried her hand at design, redecorating the Petit Trianon.) This explains the Louis XVI style of the public rooms and guest rooms upstairs.

Our Junior Suite proved to be both spacious and light-filled, with oak parquet floors, a gilded mirror over the marble fireplace, a crystal chandelier and a décor of Pierre Frey floral-print fabrics and wallpaper. A sofa upholstered in the same floral fabric sat at the end of a king-size bed, and there was also an antique secretary with a drop-leaf desk. Heavy curtains held back by passementerie tiebacks framed views of the château and the Pièce d’Eau des Suisses (a water feature in Versailles’ gardens). The well-lit and high-ceilinged stone bath came with a double vanity, rainfall shower and soaking tub. Overall, our suite induced a feeling of well-being as well as a sense of excitement at spending time in such a significant historical setting.

Restaurant terrace, Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle
Restaurant terrace, Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle - Renée Kemps

Chef Alain Ducasse supervises the hotel’s restaurant and wrote the menus, including the exquisite dinner menu titled “Le Festin Royal des Cent Marches.” Ducasse was inspired by dishes that were actually served at the court of Louis XIV. “The finest delicacies from every corner of France were sent to the kitchens at Versailles to create pleasure for the king,” he wrote. “It’s these refined and very subtle dishes made from seasonal produce that I wanted to make available to guests at Le Grand Contrôle.”

Our recent dinner began with three luxurious small starters: a salad of girolles, almonds and haricots verts; poached lobster tail in tomato aspic: and a coddled egg in an airy robe of whipped egg whites topped with caviar. Next came a succulent dish of sautéed turbot with Swiss chard, followed by poached chicken breasts with a velvety sauce supreme and crayfish tails. The meal concluded with a sorbet made from lemons harvested from trees in L’Orangerie and a luscious chocolate ganache made with chocolate from Ducasse’s own workshop in Paris. This elegant candlelit meal was served by waitstaff in period costume, at tables set with Baccarat crystal glasses, Bernardaud porcelain and Puiforcat cutlery. It was a truly unforgettable experience.

- Hotel at a Glance -

Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle    96Andrew Harper Bird


Magnificent interiors; warm and cordial service; superb restaurant; sumptuous spa; privileged access to the château.


The property is not inexpensive.

Good to Know

Definitely request a room that overlooks L’Orangerie, the celebrated historical garden of potted citrus trees. Due to the enormous popularity of this property, be sure to book as far in advance as possible.

Rates: Deluxe Room, $2,100; L’Orangerie Room, $2,920
Address: 12 Rue de l’Indépendance Américaine, Versailles
Telephone: (33) 1-85-36-05-50

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