“A drink for the king and queen!” Clothed in the livery of the Ordinary Controller of the Bouche du Roi, a department that oversaw all meals served to the king, the waiter strikes the floor with his cane as candlelight flickers off the crystal glassware. This scene took place at the Château de Versailles on a winter’s evening in early 2023. The corner windows of the Necker salons, which host the hotel’s restaurant, overlook an immense water feature named the Pièce d’Eau des Suisses. Louis XIV had this lake created so that the queen could gaze at the clouds reflected on its surface from her private quarters. The other windows open out onto the gardens, the Orangery, and the Cent Marches (“Hundred Steps”) – the monumental staircase leading to the château. This latter feature even inspired the name of the Royal Feast of the Cent Marches, a dinner crafted by Alain Ducasse and served every evening.
Inaugurated in June 2021, Le Grand Contrôle is far more than a hotel. Airelles – a French group which also has five-star establishments in Saint-Tropez, Courchevel, Val d’Isère, and the Luberon mountains – was granted a 50-year contract on the former residence of the Controller-General of Finances, on the basis of respect for the site, historical reconstitution, and luxury. After five years of renovation work overseen by an army of experts, curators, historians, and architects, the new hotel invites guests to take a sophisticated trip back through time.
The original building dates back to 1681. It was designed by Jules-Hardouin Mansart, the royal architect to Louis XIV, and was created for the Duc de Beauvilliers, the First Gentleman of the King’s Bedchamber and Colbert’s son-in-law. Located at the far end of the south wing, it may initially appear modest when compared to the opulence of the château. This is because, at the time, Versailles was not the royal showcase we know today. In fact, it was not even the seat of government – it only officially assumed this status on May 6, 1682. In the early 18th century, Louis XV integrated the building into the estate and moved in the Controller-General of Finances (which inspired the name of the hotel). Under Louis XVI, the site housed the Ministry of Finance and played host to powerful figures and courtesans who came to see the minister, Jacques Necker. The fate of the young American republic, funded in part by the French king, was also debated in secret within these walls. The hotel is even located on Rue de l’Indépendance Américaine!
The former ministry, which was used as a courthouse, a military mess hall, and a library after the French Revolution, has retained its historical charm. After walking through the citrus tree-lined courtyard, the stone-floored entrance hall leads to a staircase framed by a wrought-iron guardrail. The walls are adorned with a series of portraits depicting the Sun King, Louis XV, Louis XVI, and Marie-Antoinette with her children painted by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun. These are the only reproductions among the 900 pieces of furniture, objects, and works of art decorating the hotel – period pieces acquired according to the 1788 inventory, the last of its kind. Pedestal tables, writing desks, and wooden barometers can be found throughout the salons and corridors. The slightest touch is enough to appreciate their exquisite refinement as you make your way to one of the 14 bedrooms. The Necker, the most majestic “exclusive suite” at more than 10,000 euros per night, boasts 13-foot ceilings, Versailles parquet flooring, and a freestanding bathtub with views over the gardens. Meanwhile, the Grand Appartement includes three suites and spans more than 3,200 square feet, offering a “rare experience” with a vast terrace and a library of ancient, leather-bound books!
A Luxury Stay with Royal Privileges
The decor of the rooms is inspired by the Petit Trianon, Marie-Antoinette’s bucolic hideaway. Stripes and floral motifs are splashed across the curtains, screens, chaise lounges, and delicate chests. Interior designer Christophe Tollemer chose gentle colors, including gray-blue, dusty pink, and pale green. The period ambience has been carefully recreated, and you can almost imagine the queen walking through the corridors with floral and amber scents trailing in her wake. Around the pool, guests can admire ancient busts and the checked floor made with Carrara marble directly inspired by the château’s courtyard. Further along, the gym has been decorated in the style of an armory, complete with mirrors and classical music. Alternatively, you can go for a run through the elegantly shaped trees on the paths around the park. Guests at Le Grand Contrôle also enjoy royal privileges, including a butler who acts as a guide and a “confidant,” and private access to the Trianon estate, the Hall of Mirrors, and the private apartments of the king and queen. A rowboat is even available on the Grand Canal…
The audience chamber is the perfect place to wait for lunch. In times past, Suzanne Necker would host Diderot and Rousseau in that very room. Her daughter, the brilliant feminist and intellectual Madame de Staël, later had conversations there with the elite of the Age of Enlightenment. Comfortably seated on a red velvet-upholstered bench, a unique piece created exclusively by Hubert de Givenchy, guests can marvel at the portraits of Suzanne and Jacques Necker along with the gold moldings adorning the walls. Louis XVI armchairs with ribbed feet are arranged around tables used for playing whist, a popular court game in the 18th century. A woman wearing a wig enters the salon, her wide dress puffed out with panniers. Some may assume that she is an actor working for the hotel, but she is actually a guest. The hotel provides period costumes and even employs a professional wigmaker. After a glass of Champagne, a valet wearing a frock coat, stockings, and knickerbockers leads guests towards the restaurant in one of Necker’s two offices. And as Louis XIV began every meal with an egg, this is the first thing to be served, topped with caviar.
The flickering light from the chandeliers illuminates the room. The hotel has installed incredibly realistic electric candles by Régis Mathieu – the same used in the Hall of Mirrors. The genius French artisan has fitted them onto the 500 wall lights, chandeliers, lanterns, girandoles, and bouillotte lamps that infuse Le Grand Contrôle with such a unique glow. “The mirrors in the Hall of Mirrors reflect the light from the candles, which were a symbol of power at the time,” he says. “Lighting is what has changed the most between the 18th century and today. Reconnecting with the illumination of the Age of Enlightenment, its nuances, and its shadows, is a tour de force, but that is exactly what transports guests back to another era. At Le Grand Contrôle, this journey is not made in Versailles but through time itself…”