January 05 2010
The Sun King commanded it, but never lived to see its completion. Now, almost three centuries after his death, I have just experienced the Royal Opera at the Palace of Versailles – and it is magnificent. Astonishingly, this is the first season in which this enchanting miniature theatre (first picture) has been put to its intended use with a programme of operatic and orchestral works by Mozart, Lully, Haydn and Bach. The atmosphere I found grand but intimate, and, as it is built entirely of wood, the acoustics are superb. Surprisingly, tickets are no dearer than for the state-subsidised Paris Opéra (seats cost from around €40-€200).
Versailles is some 40 minutes from the centre of Paris, but there is a hotel of laid-back luxury overlooking the royal park, a five-minute walk from the opera house. The Trianon Palace (second picture) is approaching its centenary with remembrance of guests past including Marcel Proust, Sarah Bernhardt, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who honeymooned here. After a day pacing the great Hall of Mirrors and Louis XIV’s chambers, it is a relief to retreat to contemporary guest rooms (third picture)decorated by Fiona Thompson at her most serene. Parisian critics were indignant at the appointment of Gordon Ramsay to run the restaurant, but I am with Michelin, who have awarded Gordo’s protégé chef Simone Zanoni two stars.
With a sumptuous Guerlain spa, the hotel has become our favoured base from which to explore the Château and handsome 18th-century town. Best of all, concierge Alain can arrange for one to outshine Le Roi Soleil – by taking the royal box for an evening of operatic pleasure, with a private supper in Marie Antoinette’s withdrawing room.
Rooms from €199.