“This is this ideal rural base for travelling with a sense of purpose – and yet you are only 20 minutes by train or car from the Louvre and the heart of Paris,” says Grégoire Salamin, GM of the palatial Waldorf Astoria Versailles – Trianon Palace.
Built in 1910 by celebrity architect René Sergent, whose many other hotels include the Plaza Athénée in central Paris, today there are a total of 199 rooms and suites in two parallel blocks, joined by a subterranean passage. Both buildings allow full use of all facilities, which include three hectares of pastoral farmland, invariably dotted with sheep. From here you cross directly to the gardens of Versailles itself.
The Treaty of Versailles was signed in the main Chateau, in 1919, by Georges Clemenceau, but it had been drafted in the hotel’s Salon Clemenceau, ideal for selfies. In what is more a museum than a standard hotel, there are memorabilia for the Treaty, as well as reminders of such past guests as politicians, Gen de Gaulle, and military mights of the calibre of Eisenhower, Montgomery and Patton – and eternal entertainment heroes, Sarah Bernhardt, Marlene Dietrrich, and the scion of such a culture dynasty, J. Paul Getty.
I was in the hotel’s more ornate Louis XIV-style six-floor block, in rooftop turret suite 602. There was an ultra-private terrace, large enough to host a proper dining space for four, plus service. Oh, I thought, what a marvellous place for cocktails, or at least one glass of chilled Pommery, looking at a 360-degree view that swung round past fields of sheep to the Chateau gardens. I looked down at Parisien day-visitors merely enjoying walking in superbly fresh air.
I went back inside, to 602’s white mansard walls, striped curtains, a carpet that was leaf-patterned in soft and dark heather hues. Bathroom toiletries were Guerlain, a reminder that I had an appointment tomorrow morning in the spa.
Dinner was in the main restaurant, run by Scottish celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, a good friend of the hotel’s owners, the Ohayon family, for whom he also does gastronomic restaurant Le Pressoir d’Argent at another of their fine properties, Grand Hotel Bordeaux InterContinental: in both locations, says Grégoire Salamin, Ramsay leaves all but fine dining to hotels’ own teams.
Fine it is, by the way. Ramsay, who is a highly popular and customer-friendly visitor whenever he is in town, keeps his Versailles culinary offering as set-menu only, the five-course Discovery Menu and a seven-course Prestige alternative. Tonight I somehow managed to eat, with delight, my way through chef Frédéric Larquemin’s Mackerel fillet with beetroot; Pan-fried duck liver with spices, fig and caramelised butternut squash; Beluga lentils from Perche with quail egg, crispy lard, sorrel pesto; John Dory accompanied by ricotta-stuffed zucchini flower and shellfish sauce; veal fillet and cheek, girolles and stuffed artichoke. At this point responsibility for the meal passed to pâtissier Eddie Benghanem, who produced herbs, and then a lychee sorbet, and, finally, black fig with flower-fruit infusion and olive oil ice cream.
Looking back at my notes, I realise it is difficult to say if that was five, or seven, proper ‘courses’ but in retrospect who cares? Gastronomic memories rely on separate tastes rather than number of china plates. From the sommelier’s choice, I thoroughly enjoyed my pairings with two wines from the same house, Dme Jean-Michel Boillot, Puligny-Montrachet 2017, followed by Pommard Premier Cru Jarollières 2017.
Not surprisingly, I slept like a log, and, first thing, took 187 steps down to the basement gym for a much-needed workout. At breakfast, I relished the table service, with L’Ancienne preserves, and then I headed to the Guerlain Spa. I wanted one of the hotel-bespoke treatments, and chose a 90-minute ‘Swing Parfait’. What is this? I was soon to discover. Rather like strings of a musical instrument being stretched and smoothed in both directions, my joints were released and loosened, apparently ideal for adding the suppleness needed for playing golf. My body would be rebalanced, I was told. I did feel re-energised.
Fortunately, there was still time for a hike around the sheep pastures before taking the train back to Paris. My urban retreat ended, and I could quite understand Grégoire Salamin’s comment that Parisiens love this place for the nature.
Lead image: Waldorf Astoria Versailles – Trianon Palace; Lobby