Villers-Cotterêts royal chateau is just 70km from Paris and not far from great palaces such as Compiègne and Chantilly as well as sites such as Disneyland Paris, Parc Asterix and the Route de Champagne. However, it has been empty for years and is in need of €100million of restoration.
With glorious carvings and architectural features both inside and outside, it is the only unused royal chateau in the country and offers an unrivalled opportunity for a luxury project that will not just restore the site but may also provide high-class visitor accommodation. Or, as it is just 40km from Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle and 45min by train from Paris, even a prestige company headquarters in the wake of Brexit.
The French government and the local Aisne tourist department are joining forces to publicise the project, and are opening it up to national and international investors to suggest ways to use the chateau to its best advantage.
It already has plenty of benefits, being in such an in-demand location, but the key is that it gives 23,000m2 of space that gives scope for a luxury hotel, country club or many other premier projects.
The original chateau was built in 950 but was rebuilt in the 12th century and François 1 created a new chateau from 1532 that was finished under Henri II. It shares features with Fontainebleau, the two chateaux having been built by the same group of architects. Key among the hallmarks are the many salamander logos seen throughout, the emblem of François 1.
It was a much-loved hunting lodge in the middle of the Retz forest and it was here in 1539 that François signed the Ordonnance de Villers-Cotterêts, the laws that made French the kingdom’s official language instead of the lingua franca of Latin. It was also here, in 1558, that Henri II signed the Auld Alliance between France, Scotland and Norway against England.
Classed as a historic monument since 1997, the chateau bears the marks of its location north-east of Paris as its walls are pocked with bulletholes and blast marks from First World War fighting.
That, plus its use since the Revolution as a home for the Paris poor and then as a care home, has taken its toll on the fabric of the building – with experts estimating at least €100m of restoration work needed.
The town of Villers-Cotterêts is itself interesting as it was the home town of Alexandre Dumas, writer of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.
Open to developers and tourist and cultural professionals, the appeal for ideas can be seen at www.chateau-royal-france.com and will run until July 21. Visits can be organised from May 2 until then – the website has a contact form.