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
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.