ISSY-LES-MOULINEAUX, France — In 1506, Marguerite de Valois, the French queen famously played by Isabelle Adjani in “La Reine Margot,” sought refuge from a plague-ridden Paris in a countryside retreat. Now tourists, business travelers and harried Parisians can do the same with the opening of a five-star hotel on the site of her former residence.
The Domaine Reine Margot Paris Issy hotel, which belongs to Accor Group’s MGallery collection, allows guests to drink rum in a 19th-century former chapel or have brunch in a garden with a view of the Eiffel Tower — all within minutes of the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles conference center, which hosts trade fairs including Who’s Next, Bijorhca and Texworld Evolution.
The hotel is in Issy-les-Moulineaux, a suburb better known as a hub for the headquarters of companies including Microsoft and Orange than for its tourist attractions — but that’s kind of the point, says Maud Bailly, chief executive officer of the division that runs the Sofitel, MGallery and Emblems hotels.
“We hope it will become the refuge of all the residents of the Paris region and tourists who want to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city,” she says. “We want it to embody the French art of living and quiet luxury.”
Designed by renowned architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, the hotel features 83 rooms and suites spread between a 17th-century building, which has been painstakingly renovated, and a modern addition, designed along clean, minimalist lines conducive to contemplation.
Decked out in natural wood and muted colors, the rooms feature white marble bathrooms and most of them have Eiffel Tower views. Reminders of Valois are scattered throughout.
“This place was her refuge, so we are truly in the queen’s domain. She dreamed, walked, cried, laughed and slept here,” Bailly says. “She was a very beautiful woman, but she was also very educated and cultivated, a woman of action, and those she welcomed here included poets, philosophers and the future King Louis XIII.”
After the death of its royal occupant in 1615, the site became the property of the Society of Priests of Saint Sulpice. While the chapel has been deconsecrated, reminders of its Catholic former occupants abound in the form of statues and inscriptions.
“With our renovations, we always try to respect the history of the place, otherwise it’s a slap in the face for culture,” says Bailly. “We’re the guardians of memory to an extent and we obviously treat heritage sites with the utmost care.”
The executive, previously in charge of Accor’s Southern Europe hub, has managed the MGallery brand since January as part of a new luxury and lifestyle division. It has 121 boutique hotels worldwide, with 38 openings planned within three years in countries including Japan, Kenya and Poland.
Many of the existing hotels occupy spaces with a history. The Porter House Hotel in Sydney was originally a tobacco factory, while the Santa Teresa Hotel in Rio de Janeiro is located in a historic coffee farm dating to 1850. Each hotel is symbolized by an object, in the case of Domaine Reine Margot, a white ruff collar like the one Valois wears in a large portrait hanging in the lobby.
Bailly says the “M” in the brand name stands for “memorable” and “meaningful.”
“We don’t believe in standard hotels. We believe in individuality, intimacy, something memorable but also socially responsible,” she explains.
In addition to the 400 types of rum available at the Monastic bar in its chapel, the new hotel will offer a rotating selection of cocktails made with produce from the garden, which houses 80 varieties of fruits, vegetables and aromatic plants. The spa offers a custom Anne Semonin antioxidant facial loaded with aromatic oils and botanical extracts.
Chef Jean-Philippe Pérol has devised a plant-based menu for the Marguerite 1606 restaurant using seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. School groups will visit the garden, which has a greenhouse for small private events, and surplus food production will be donated to the city’s social services unit.
“A hotel is part of a neighborhood, and if there’s one hotel brand at Accor that believes in local roots and giving back to the community, it’s MGallery,” Bailly says, noting that her division works with organizations that support the education of women and girls, combat domestic violence and fight against breast cancer, among others.
“I don’t think that the luxury hotel sector can continue to ignore corporate social responsibility,” she adds, pointing out that 43 percent of the hotels under her watch are in the process of obtaining eco-certification.
Bailly is confident that the Domaine Reine Margot hotel will attract leisure and business visitors alike, reflecting changes in travel habits in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
“People have realized the importance of taking care of themselves and MGallery has always taken into account this wellbeing dimension,” she says. “It’s rare to find so much nature in an urban luxury boutique hotel.”