France's Versailles palace to host luxury hotel

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The Independent Travel

The Palace of Versailles is to transform one of its satellite buildings into a luxury hotel, paving the way for a series of French projects aimed at exploiting the economic potential of listed buildings while securing their renovation.

The Hotel du Grand Controle, the traditional home of the chateau's treasurers, is to be converted into a "luxury hotel," Jean-Jacques Aillagon, president of the Chateau de Versailles, said Tuesday.

"It's a pioneering initiative," he told reporters.

The opening of the 23-bedroom establishment, in which some rooms will look out onto the "Orangerie" - the chateau's elaborate greenhouse - or the Swiss ornamental lake, is planned for late 2011.

The palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site deemed one of the crowning achievements of 18th-century French art, is one of Europe's most popular tourist attractions.

Famed for its Hall of Mirrors and home to the French court from 1682, the complex was transformed and expanded under the Sun King Louis XIV into a monument to royal grandeur and absolutism. It remained the official seat of power until the French Revolution in 1789, when Marie-Antoinette fled the palace via a secret passage.

A concession has been granted to the Belgian company Ivy International SA, which is to renovate and develop the satellite building, which dates back to the 17th century, over 30 years. The company is already working on a similar luxury hotel in France's western Brittany region.

Built in the 1680s by the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the 1,700 square-metre (18,000 square-feet) Hotel du Grand Controle served as an officers' mess until 2006.

"This building was given to us in a very dilapidated state," said Aillagon. "I've been given the task of saving it," he added.

Ivy will pay for the renovation works, estimated at 5.5 million euros (7.3 million dollars), which will be led by historic monuments architect-in-chief Frederic Didier.

The company will pay Versailles an annual fee to lease the building.

A November 2009 agreement between the Culture Ministry and the Secretariat of State for Tourism set out to encourage the economic and touristic development of French heritage.

Another royal palace, the Chateau of Fontainbleau south of Paris, is preparing to appeal for bids to develop its listed Heronniere barracks next year.

"We have to find a purpose for these buildings to avoid them falling into ruin," said Jean-Francois Hebert, president of Fontainbleau.

"One of the ways will be to set up an upmarket hotel complex," he said.

The Centre for National Monuments has asked the Atout France agency to study the possibility of converting around 20 listed sites.

Meanwhile, the prestigious Hotel de la Marine, an 18th-century building facing onto central Paris' spacious Place de la Concorde, has quietly gone up for rent on a long-term lease for between 60 to 80 years.

The building, ordered by Louis XV, is considered a jewel of French patrimony but its sumptuous interiors are little known to the public. It now houses the Navy general staff, which must leave by the end of 2014 for a new French-style Pentagon being built south of Paris.

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