STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And right now we'll cross the English Channel. For anyone who has dreamed of spending the night at the Palace of Versailles, you might now get your chance.
As Eleanor Beardsley reports, a part of France's most cherished cultural landmark will soon be turned into a luxury hotel.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Hundreds of shivering tourists line up across an immense, cobbled courtyard to visit the Palace of Versailles. Home to the French monarchy since Louis XIV, Versailles is a monument to royal grandeur. Soon, the palace may also become known for its five-star hotel.
Mr. MIKAEL HAUTCHAMP (Deputy Administrator, Palace of Versailles): (Unintelligible)
BEARDSLEY: Mikael Hautchamp is the deputy administrator for the Palace of Versailles. He opens the front doors to the future luxury lodging: a grand, but dilapidated mansion about a hundred yards from the main palace.
Known as the Hotel du Grand Controle, the mansion was built in the 1680s to serve as the offices and home of the king's treasurer, where he lived with his family and servants. The Hotel du Grand Controle was evacuated, along with the rest of Versailles, during the French Revolution. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it fell into further disrepair.
Mr. HAUTCHAMP: The walls here, it's completely crumbling in parts. Many parts of this building are in this very damaged situation. It's very difficult for us, because our mission is to save the heritage.
(Soundbite of footsteps)
BEARDSLEY: Hautchamp says Versailles doesn't have the $7 million it will take to restore the building, which is why it turned to a Belgian hotel company. The company will renovate the mansion and turn its 23 bedrooms into a luxury hotel. A percentage of the profits will be paid back to the Palace of Versailles in rent.
The restoration is the first in a series of commercial projects aimed at saving French monuments, and visitors will now have chance to see what it felt like to sleep at the palace of Versailles.
Mr. HAUTCHAMP: So, when you're here in the bedroom, you open the window and you have this view. So we can see here the Orangerie. And here you can see the castle.
BEARDSLEY: The Orangerie is the greenhouse where Louis XIV stored his 1,700 orange and palm trees throughout the winter months. The restoration of the Hotel du Grand Controle will take place in 2011 and be overseen by France's top historical architect.
Louise Grether is managing the project for the Belgium hotel company, Ivy.
Ms. LOUISE GRETHER (Ivy International): It's quite a pioneering initiative in France for somebody to be able to have the right to take on a project like this in such a historic monument and transform this into an economic project.
BEARDSLEY: Some have been critical about handing over a national treasure to a private operator. But on the streets of Versailles, people seem fine with the idea.
Pour quoi pas, says Denise Mosset.
Ms. DENISE MOSSET: (French spoken)
BEARDSLEY: It surprised me at first, says Mosset. But if we don't have the money to restore it, this is better than letting it fall into ruin.
(Soundbite of squeaky door)
BEARDSLEY: Near the palace, bookshop owner Serge Bessiere says he thinks the new hotel will be a fabulous place to stay and celebrate any occasion. Partying, he says, is part of Versailles' history.
Mr. SERGE BESSIERE (Bookshop Owner): (Through translator) Louis XIV never stopped throwing sumptuous feasts and parties to show he was the Sun King and to keep everyone at his mercy.
BEARDSLEY: In January 2012, when the Hotel de l'Orangerie is completed, overnight guests will be able to drink champagne and stroll in the gardens of Versailles for the first time in over 200 years.
For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley, in Versailles.
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