The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                              PAGE THREE
Paris ‘Palaces’ Controversy: Off with Their Heads!

                                                                                                                                            by Maribeth Clemente

  Come along with us and Maribeth Clemente to explore some of Paris' most upscale, historic and architecturally significant hotels.

Place de la ConcordeAs I watched the rainbow-colored display of cyclists zoom around the place de la Concorde the final stage of the Tour de France, I was nagged by only one discouraging thought. No, it had nothing to do with cycling or the fact that an American wasn't going to make the podium. It was about that grand and imposing building bordering this famous place and how it's no longer officially considered une palace de Paris. Yes, I'm talking about the renowned Hôtel de Crillon, the place where Queen Elizabeth stayed when she visited Paris many years ago. It's, in fact, the glorious abode chosen by Lance Armstrong after several Tour finishes when he was at the peak of his reign and sandwiched in between the American Consulate and the Residence of the American Ambassador in Paris. If you can't make it to Versailles, have tea here, and you'll have a taste of eighteenth-century French grandeur that will more than satisfy all your senses and sensibilities.

Le Jardin d'Hiver of the CrillonHaute Dining at Les Ambassadeurs at Hôtel de Crillon

                                                                            Le Jardin d'Hiver of the Crillon                  Haute Dining at Les Ambassadeurs at Hôtel de Crillon 

Here's what I wrote about Les Palaces in my book, The Riches of Paris: A Shopping and Touring Guide

Paris Ritz on the Place Vendôme"The French have two words for a palace:  palais and château. Somehow it seemed fitting, however, to adopt the English word palace in the early 1900s to describe the glorious grand hotels that were then being built in Paris. What began as a marketing move to attract prominent British tourists soon stuck and, today, when one refers to les palaces de Paris, most people know that this includes a select few. Six palatial hotels worthy of being called palace exist today in Paris, and once you step into one you will know why. The historical significance of each is remarkable, but it's more likely the profound attention to detail of each fine establishment that puts them head and shoulders above the rest of Paris's splendid hotels. The six are the Four Seasons Hôtel George V, Hôtel le Bristol, Hôtel de Crillon, Hôtel Meurice, Hôtel Plaza Athenée Paris and Hôtel Ritz. Even if you don't plan to spend the night, I wholeheartedly encourage you to stop at one of these bastions of tradition, the crème de la crème of all the world's hotels. You may breathe in their allure for the price of un café or just a tour around the lobby. Be sure to dress up for the occasion."

The Suite Imperiale at Hôtel Ritz
Well, the French Government Tourist authorities took the Crillon, the George V and the Ritz off this haute list recently and to that I say merde!  Excuse my French, but this is truly ridicule. This unthinkable erreur has the hospitality industry in France in an uproar. And no one has provided a sufficient explanation of any of it. If my opinion, it's encore de la politique. A good article to read about all this hubbub is Iconic Hotels Feel the Snub as High-Class Lodgings Get Palace Rating.

This just confirms something else I wrote about in my Paris book:  Be wary of the star ratings with hotels. I've found fantastic two-star establishments that in my opinion warrant three stars and four-star establishments that would do well to receive a three-star rating. C'est souvent n'importe quoi. You can tell that all this has my dander up.

I stick by the palace classification I provided above. You go to Paris, see for yourself, and you'll understand why.

Presidential Suite Four Seasons George VLa Galerie at the Four Seasons George V

                                                      Presidential Suite Four Seasons George V                                  Galerie at the Four Seasons George V

Thank you to the Hôtel de Crillon, the Four Seasons George V and Hôtel Ritz 
for the use of the photos in this story. Photo credit:  Eric Cuvillier and others.

Maribeth Clemente's web site, Bonjour Colorado, at focuses on her love for skiing and 
Colorado, but don't let that be a distraction because her other love is France where she lived and worked for many years. 
Her books The Riches of France and The Riches of Paris (must-have insider shopping guides) can be found at
and you can listen to her on public radio in Telluride, Colorado on Travel Fun (6:30-7 PM every other Tuesday) - 
access it online at or go to Travel Fun podcasts:
Email Maribeth at


 Finding a hotel in Paris can be daunting - where do you begin?
A click on the link above will take you to EasyToBook's Paris pages where you 
will find a selection of fine hotels all offered at the lowest prices available.
EasyToBook also offers hotels in other cities in France and Europe.

 Near Paris : A Medieval Castle of… Many Talents!
                                                                                                                                                                 by Arthur Gillette

Cannonball hole at Pierrefonds.  Photo ©2011 by Clara Dudezert. All rights reserved.

Pop star Michael Jackson visited it in 1996 and wanted to buy it. "Sorry," he was was told, "this is a national monument and, therefore, not for sale."  Tenaciously attracted, and perhaps a mite irked, he had a not-so-miniature model made of it which he put on display at his Neverland Ranch in California.

Originally built towards the end of the 13th century, it was all-but-destroyed during royal/feudal feuding at the beginning of the 17th century. Huge cannonball holes are still visible in its lower (thus original) ramparts. Thereafter, the castle became an all-but-forgotten vestige until Napoleon I bought it in 1810.  Time before Waterloo was too short for him to do much with the place, and in any event the then-dominant neo-classic taste ignored it.  Until . . . Napoleon III came to power in the mid-19th century,  a time of Medieval revival when the place's ruins had come to be deemed romantic

What was the object of this attraction over the last century-and-a-half?  Nothing less than the overpowering Pierrefonds Castle, about one and one-half-hours' drive northeast of Paris towards the Belgian border.

Château de Pierrefonds today, Idarvol Wikimedia
Château de Pierrefonds, Picardie

With a major restoration in mind, Napoleon III hesitated between Pierrefonds and another Medieval masterpiece.  His Empress, Eugénie, much preferred Pierrefonds.  Avoiding a spat, the imperial couple agreed that a decision would be made by 'drawing straws'.  Eugénie is thought to have duped her husband by writing Pierrefonds on both slips of paper one of which the Emperor was to draw at random from a hat to decide the matter.

In 1857, the castle's revival was entrusted to that major restorer (including Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral), Eugène Viollet le-Duc.  Here is his drawing of the romantic ruin before he started work on it:

1857 Sketch of Pierrefonds by Viollet le Duc.  Wikimedia

St Michael at Pierrefonds. Photo ©2011 by Clara Dudezert. All rights reserved.

The job took over a quarter of a century, and Michael Jackson was right: the result – an enthralling visit still today – does indeed recall to a degree Peter Pan's Neverland fantasy kingdom! At the time, there were no rigid, universally-recognized and accepted criteria for architectural restoration, and Violet's passionate goal was to produce a Château de Pierrefonds as he thought it could/should have been. Today, the monument's managers call it "a re-invented castle".

To be sure, Viollet le Duc's restoration of the external walls, ramparts and towers does seem overwhelmingly and forebodingly worthy of Medieval military architecture.  He embellished and lightened them somewhat, however, with statues of several preux, i.e. gallant and valiant historical personages of classical and Biblical fame, including for example Saint Michael slaying his dragon.

Once inside the Château de Pierrefonds, however, you come upon Viollet Le Duc's penchant for a variety of period styles. He bordered the interior courtyard with fenêtres à meneaux – technically known as mullioned windows - whose criss-crossed Renaissance structure allowed for light to enter the interior in much greater quantity than during the Middle Ages.

Mullioned windows at Pierrefonds. Photo ©2011 by Clara Dudezert. All rights reserved.
Mullioned windows at Château de Pierrefonds

The Monduit Permanent Collection of… Lead Artifacts!

Lead artifact at Chateau de Pierrfonds - Wikipedia

At first it seems totally incongruous that a Medieval monument should house a huge collection of 19th century industrially-crafted lead artifacts. But a single closer look explains why. The Monduit Company (1867 – 1970) focused much of its production on items helping to refurbish such medieval vestiges as the spires at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the St. Michel Abbey on the Mount of the same name and Amiens Cathedral, not to forget the roofing of Pierrefonds. 
Designs of Viollet le Duc at the château.  Photo ©2011 by Clara Dudezert. All rights reserved.
Donated by a Monduit heiress, the collection also contains models of contributions to such more recent structures as the Garnier Opera in Paris and sculptor Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty in New York.

For some specialists, certain elements of Viollet le Duc's  interior decoration at Pierrefonds announce Art Nouveau's lively colored sweeps and swirls several decades before that iconoclastic style – partly of Medieval inspiration itself, in fact - really began to flourish. 

Bringing things even closer to modernity, the restoration included, in Emperor Napoleon III's private quarters, a flush toilet!  And to top things off, Viollet le Duc signed his restoration in the most contemporary way possible: with a statue of himself as a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela greeting visitors at the Pierrefonds Castle's chapel entry.

Pierrefonds Entrée - Photo WikipediaEugene Viollet le Duc - Wikipedia

                                                                             Pilgrim at Château Entrance                                        Eugene Viollet le Duc

Are you doubting the likeness?  Well, here's the restorer himself, immortalized by no less a photographer than Nadar: different garb of course, but same face and beard.

  For practical information, mostly in English:

 [Mouse over photos on this page for credits and further descriptions.]

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