Story and photos by Sharon King Hoge

AFV Reception in the historic Hall of Mirrors

A Special Philanthropic Trip and Tribute

A trip to Paris is always memorable. But ultra-memorable is the chance for visitors to hobnob with the First Lady of France, the head of the French royal dynasty, and the American Ambassador. Add to that strolling through the historic rooms of the Palace of Versailles for a formal black-tie dinner that concludes with spectacular fireworks over the palace gardens and it’s truly a luxury experience.

These special events can be part of tours arranged to help raise funds for preservation projects. In addition to paying their travel costs, attendees contribute toward projects supporting worthy institutions.  Extra funds for the projects add a little to the price of the trip, but some of the experiences are priceless.

AFV The President of Versailles greeted the group and AFV President Catharine Hamilton in the restored Queen's Guards Room

Private Time at the Palace:

A trip to Paris in June this year was the ultimate effort of the American Friends of Versailles (AFV) to support restoration of the deteriorating ceiling of the Queen’s Guards Room in Marie Antoinette’s suite of  apartments in the palace, and the four day extravaganza of events opened in that very room when the President of Versailles greeted the group  and showed off the 17th century picture of Jupiter Triumphant, now gloriously restored.

AFV The Hameau was Marie Antoinette's fanciful farmyard

With the palace closed to the public on Monday, the AFV group enjoyed  private tours of palace suites, preview of an exhibit of 17th-century paintings in the Trianon, and a chance to tour the Hameau, the fancy  “farm yard” enclosure where Marie Antoinette dressed as a shepherdess to escape court intrigue. Luncheon was served at Ore, Alain Ducasse’s  newly opened restaurant in the palace.

AFV Princess Camilla -in pink - mingled with the guests

Luncheon with the Royal Family:

The next day’s luncheon was also extraordinary. HRH Prince Charles de  Bourbon Two Sicilies, Duke of Castro and his wife HRH Princess Camilla  entertained the group at their elegant apartment on the Seine  overlooking the Eiffel Tower. The sumptuous buffet was truly fit for a  king and the mingling Prince and Princess and their daughters were  gracious hosts.

AFV An elaborate buffet was served in the royal apartment

Welcomed by Dignitaries:

AFV First Lady Brigitte Macon - in white blazer- spent an hour showing us around the Elysee Palace

Brigitte Macron, the First Lady of France, was another memorable host. We were  in the midst of a private tour of the Elysee Palace, France’s equivalent to America’s “White House,” when the First Lady appeared and proceeded  to lead us through the private offices and led us “backstairs” to see  samples of the porcelains and silver used for State dinners.

Down the street, at the official American residence, America’s new Ambassador Jamie McCourt welcomed us to a garden reception.

AFV A dinner reception in the hotel of Juan Pablo Molyneux

Myriad Events:

Other events included private tours of unusual museums, a visit to the French Senate in Marie de Medici’s Luxembourg Palace, a dinner reception in  the extraordinary hotel particulier of renowned decorator Juan Pablo  Molyneux, luncheon with AFV Board member Natalie, Comtesse Serge de la  Bedoyerein at her classic apartment just steps from the Champs Elysees, a  starlit formal dinner cruise of the Seine, an opportunity to see how  Francois Pinault has transformed a 16th-century hospital into modern  quarters for Balenciaga and other brands of Kering S.A.

AFV Yachts de Paris formal dinner aboard

A Private Gala in the Palace

AFV Arriving for the gala evening at Versailles

And on top of all that, there was the gala dinner in the palace itself.  Wearing elegant gowns we sipped champagne in the Hall of Mirrors before  dignitaries and guests joined us for a lavish dinner served in the  vestibule to the Royal Chapel. Capping the evening we descended to the  garden terrace where spectacular fireworks, all white as known to King  Louis, burst and exploded lighting up the sky.

AFV  Dinner was served in the vestibuel of the Royal Chapel



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