On a four-day visit to Paris, members of the American Friends of Versailles enjoyed several exclusive events, including roaming around the Élysée Palace with France’s vivacious first lady, Brigitte Macron; dining with HRH Prince Charles de Bourbon des Deux Siciles, Duke of Castro, head of the royal house of France; sipping cocktails with US Ambassador Jamie McCourt at the American Residence; and private visits to the Palace of Versailles, topped with a black-tie formal reception in the Hall of Mirrors and an elegant dinner.
Having raised the funds to rescue historic ceiling paintings in Marie Antoinette’s suite of apartments, the group gathered to view and celebrate the restorations. The formal events that took place at the palace will be covered in another post, but here is an account of some of the other privileged activities.
TOURING THE PRESIDENTIAL PALACE WITH FRANCE’S FIRST LADY
The AFV has enjoyed past tours of the Élysée Palace, but the president’s wife made this visit especially memorable. As guides showed us through private diplomatic rooms—voilà!—the first lady swept in to greet us. Brigitte Macron spent over an hour leading us backstage through presidential offices, state rooms, and store rooms before entertaining us at tea and joining in for a group photo on the palace garden steps.
INVITED TO A ROYAL LUNCH
On another day, we were invited to the opulent Seine-side apartment of HRH Prince Charles de Bourbon des Deux Siciles, and his wife HRH Princess Camilla. HRH Prince Charles is at the head of the historic French and Spanish Royal House of Bourbon. After cocktails on the garden terrace overlooking a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower, dining room doors were opened to reveal an elaborate luncheon buffet. Grand Master of the Order of Saint George, HRH Prince Charles took the occasion to present AFV Founder Catharine Hamilton with an Order of Merit recognizing her contributions.
VISITING THE AMBASSADOR’S RESIDENCE
The new US Ambassador to France Jamie McCourt received us for an evening reception at the stately American Residence. After cocktails overlooking the garden dotted with art, the evening concluded with an impromptu piano recital by emerging classical master Andrew von Oeyen.
MAGICAL MOLYNEUX DINNER IN THE MARAIS
Celebrated international interior designer Juan Pablo Molyneux and his wife Pilar hosted a cocktail dinatoire in their exquisite Hotel Claude Passart residence nestled in the Marais. An AFV Board Member, Juan Pablo has beautifully restored the hotel particulier, which was built in 1618 for the King’s Secretary and Notary.
CRUISING THE SEINE BY STARLIGHT
One evening featured an upscale dinner cruise on the river Seine. Setting out from near the Eiffel Tower, we passed a three-quarter model of the Statue of Liberty that Americans presented to France in 1889 to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution. Like the projects of the AFV, it represents as a gesture of Franco-American friendship. After a seated meal of French gastronomy, a Parisian DJ supplied tunes for dancing before we disembarked into the “City of Lights.”
TOURING A FASHION POWERHOUSE
Founded in 1634 in the middle of Paris, comprising eight courtyards and ten acres, the historic Hospital for the Incurables has been restored by Francois Pinault to house Balenciaga and other luxury brands of Kering S.A.
LUNCHEON WITH THE COMTESSE
After a tour through Kering’s renovated chapel and gardens, we proceeded to luncheon at the lovely 8th arrondissement apartment of board member Nathalie, the Comtesse de La Bédoyère.
PRIVATE TOURS OF MUSEUMS AND MONUMENTS
Other activities included private tours of the Musée Marmottan Monet and the Musée Nissim de Camondo, both housed in private mansions, and a visit to the ornate state rooms of the French Senate located near the Luxembourg Gardens.
Photography by by Francis Hammond, Keva Studio, Sharon Hoge, Jeanne Lawrence, and Michèle Fieschi-Fouan.