Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023

There is one important distinction to make when describing, Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle, the boutique hotel managed by the Airelles hotel company: this ultra exclusive property should not be simply described as a hotel.

“The idea is that our guests have a totally immersive experience at Le Grand Contrôle,” explains Hubert Savouré, Deputy General Manager at the luxurious Five Star hotel. “Whether it is the decoration, the music, the staff uniforms or the experiences, our guests really feel they are in the 18th century and they can really disconnect from the normal world.”

Indeed. Set within the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle was built in 1681 by Louis XIV’s favorite architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart. The building was used as the offices of the ministry of finance and was also where various finance ministers and their families lived from 1723 to 1791 (it continued being used as a ministry for a couple of years after the revolution started).

The impressive building was meticulously restored over several years in the Louis XVI period style by the Airelles hotel company. “We chose that period because there were a lot of very important decisions made in this building during the reign of Louis XVI such as the decision to finance the American War of Independence,” explains Savouré. Back then, the Minister of Finance was the most important person in the kingdom after the king. “He was the top minister in the government,” he adds.

The building is owned by the French State as it is part of the Palace of Versailles. Stephane Courbit, the owner of Airelles, the company that manages the hotel, negotiated a 40 year lease to operate the hotel in the space. Courbit, a successful French entrepreneur and television producer who owns the Airelles hotels found throughout France, opened the hotel in June of 2021 after a multi-year renovation. Guests can feel good about the money they spend to stay at the hotel as the Palace uses proceeds from the commercial lease to fund restoration projects at Versailles and its grounds.

The boutique hotel offers 13 individually decorated rooms and suites—each worthy of an Architectural Digest photo spread. Every guest room, suite and public space at Le Grand Contrôle was individually decorated with artwork, artifacts and décor in an elegant eighteenth-century style. Fabrics were recreated by the internationally-acclaimed French interior design house, Maison Pierre Frey, which studied original patterns found in Versailles’ extensive archives.

Where possible, original furniture from the palace has been reinstated in the building (as well as every modern comfort). The period furniture, of which there are more than 1,000 pieces, were collected over a period of three and a half years, sourced at auctions and at antique shops all over Europe, before being meticulously restored. Even the lighting, while modern, is designed with the 18th century in mind, and resembles candlelight.

There are six suites at the hotel. The grandest one, called the Necker Suite, is the former private apartment of Jacques Necker, who was the most popular minister during the time of Louis XVI and a significant figure of the French Revolution. The light-filled suite has Versailles parquet flooring throughout and four-meter-high ceilings. The 120 square meter suite features a magnificent four-poster bed, a generous living room, free-standing bath and views over the Orangery Garden.

A large two-bedroom suite named Madame de Staël is 150 square meters in size. It can host up to six guests and features two bedrooms, two bathrooms, crystal chandeliers and a freestanding bath with views over the Orangery Garden.

All minibars are stocked with complimentary snacks and beverages. Upon arrival and on each subsequent evening during their stay, guests will discover a thoughtful and tasteful gift from the hotel placed on their bed. Gifts range from luxurious night shirts and toile vanity case to locally made cosmetics, Valmont Spa products, night masks, tea and scented candles.

In keeping with its lavish history, every element at Le Grand Contrôle is inspired by the splendor of the Louis XVI period. Nearly every member of the hotel’s staff of 100 (apart from the spa team) wear one of 23 different reproduction period uniforms that were designed by Parisian uniform designers Terre & Ciel Studio who spent two years researching the clothes worn at the time of Marie-Antoinette. Costumes were created with the colors and materials used in the rooms in mind, to ensure that everything works together. While all of this may sound excessive or kitschy, rest assured, it is not as every detail at this property has been done in a very tasteful and elegant way.

The hotel offers guests an exclusive peek into the world of Versailles that is not possible to have otherwise. “Every guest will be contacted before staying with us just to explain how the hotel works, to offer all included experiences and to suggest all those that can be added for a supplement,” says Savouré.We explain what we can offer and then make the arrangements depending on what the guest chooses to do.”

Guests have dedicated butler service and complimentary use of golf carts to explore the gardens of Versailles and rowing boats to use in Grand Canal. Unlimited access to the amenities of the Spa Valmont is also available on a 24 hour basis. A beautiful 15-meter-long indoor swimming pool is available on a complimentary reservation-only basis for overnight guests for a one-hour per day session, so that you will never share it with anyone else unless they are accompanying you. The pool area has a hammam and a sauna, while the spa offers two treatment rooms. There is also a fitness center with TechnoGym cardiovascular equipment.

The immersive royal experience begins each day with a wake-up service in which your personal butler, who is wearing, of course, an 18th century reproduction uniform, will discreetly come into your room to wake you up. The butler will serve to you a hot drink, open your curtains and prepare a hot bath with special scents and fresh flowers. The butler will turn on a portable speaker which will play baroque music that was popular during the 18th century.

Guests are invited to participate in two exclusive, private tours of the Palace of Versailles daily—one given in the morning and the other given during the evening, which are included in the price of the accommodations. Groups are small and contain no more than a maximum of 15 people. “If we have every guest going for an evening tour, we will separate the group into two,” says Savouré. “One group will be five minutes ahead of the other, so everyone can be accommodated.”

Tours of Versailles are repeated twice a week. So if you are a hotel guest for three nights or less, every tour you take will be unique. Of course, guests also have complimentary access to all of the estate of Versailles if they want to tour on their own, too, including fountain shows and special exhibitions inside the palace.

The hotel offers its guests with three different tours before Versailles is open to the public. One day the tour will be of the Louis XIV’s Grand Trianon, while on another day it will be of the Petit Trianon. On the third day it will be Queen’s Hamlet, the Queen’s much-loved English garden and model village built around an artificial lake. Guests of Le Grand Contrôle are given special access. “The estate at Trianon opens at noon, but our guests get to tour it at 9:45am until 11:30am,” says Savouré.And at the Queen’s Hamlet, our guests get to go inside the buildings, which are normally closed to the public who only get to visit the gardens there.”

Every evening, once the Palace doors are closed to visitors, a guide will take Le Grand Contrôle guests on tours of areas of the palace rarely open to the public. “Our guests get to see the best spaces with no other visitors and they see spaces not usually accessible to the public, such as Marie Antoinette’s personal cabinet and the private apartments,” says Savouré. Indeed, visitors to Versailles on self-guided public tours only get to see the state apartments not the private apartments, and these parts of the palace are usually very crowded.

Three different tours are given after the palace closes—on one evening the tour will be in the Queen’s Apartments and the Hall of Mirrors, while the next evening it will be in the Hall of Mirrors and the King’s Apartments. On the third evening, the tour will be at the apartments of the son (the Dauphin) and daughters of Louis the XV. Guests also have the opportunity to privately visit the Royal Opera and the Royal Chapel for a supplement. While these after-hours visits can be arranged privately through the Chateau to visitors not staying at the hotel, they are at a steep price of 6,000 euros. “We tell our guests our rooms are actually a very good value for the money, because if you want to do these private tours on your own, you would spend more money than the cost of the room for the same experience,” says Savouré.

Guests of Le Grand Contrôle also have unlimited access to the Palace gardens whenever they like—any time of the day or night. You can go for some fresh air in the morning before the palace is open or enjoy a moonlit stroll after the daytime visitors have departed. The hotel will prepare a picnic lunch for you should you want to spend the entire day in the garden. It can also arrange for you to go horseback riding in the park behind the Grand Canal. The cost for a two-hour horseback riding session is 430 euros per person.

For those who wish to take their immersive experience one step further, Le Grand Contrôle will arrange for you to experience the hotel in costume. A member of the hotel’s staff will contact you before your stay to get your measurements and will send you photos from which you can select the costume you prefer. During your stay, the hotel will arrange for hair and makeup artists who will prepare you for a photoshoot conducted by a professional photographer in the confines of the hotel. “Before we opened the hotel we thought that very few people would want to do this, but as it turns out it is the most popular experience our guests want to have,” says Savouré.

Reservations for dining at the hotel’s Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse restaurant gives priority to overnight guests, and only a few tables are available for outside clients to reserve in advance. Sunday brunch is extremely popular and it is necessary for outsiders to book up to two months in advance if they are not overnight guests. A gourmet breakfast created by the Ducasse restaurant, as well as a daily afternoon tea, are included in the cost of the accommodations. At night, guests often relax in Le Salon d’Audience where they enjoy playing popular 18th century games such as English Whist or Cavagnole, Italian in origin and like roulette.

The hotel is priced fairly, when you consider all of its amenities, access and staff-to-guest ratio. During the off-season, a standard room with a double occupancy costs 2,000 euros per night; the same room during the high season in July would cost 3,500 euros per night. Suites can cost upwards of 20,000 euros per night. Unlike other hotels, this one does not discount its pricing when there is excess inventory. When fully occupied, there are 30 adult guests. With children included in the larger suites, the maximum number of guests can be up to 36.

Le Grand Contrôle can also be booked in its entirety for a private function. The staff will plan days and nights packed with adventures thanks to the tours and experiences on offer. The hotel can accommodate up to 50 guests for a seated banquet or as many as 100 guests for a cocktail party. The cost of a buyout during the low season is 85,000 euros per night while it is 100,00 euros per night during the high season, and includes food and beverages.

Most guests at Le Grand Contrôle stay only one night, but return at a later date to stay longer. The hotel is thrilled to have guests return for a repeat visit. “This is really encouraging for us,” says Savouré. “We are a staff of one hundred and we work very hard to make every guest happy.”

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