• 60'
  • Author : Martin Mischi
  • 16-10-2021
  • Master : 3110


“The Old Lady”, as the residents of Biarritz the biarrots call her, has never looked so dapper… Lashed by the waves on the Grande Plage (Grand Beach) for over 150 years, the Hotel du Palais is the sole 5-star luxury hotel on the Atlantic coast. After being closed for two years to carry out a thorough renovation, it is getting to open its doors once again.

The Villa Eugénie, built by Napoleon III for his wife in 1854, changed the destiny of Biarritz forever. In the wake of the Empress, the tiny fishing village became the meeting point for the international elite. Converted into a hotel, then rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1903, this exceptional place has never ceased hosting the major figures of that world: Empress Sisi, Winston Churchill, Sarah Bernhardt, Romy Schneider, Ernest Hemingway, Charlie Chaplin and Frank Sinatra have all stayed there. A new era is now beginning for this luxury flagship in the Basque country. The first guests entered the Palais’ doors on March 26 2021. Behind the scenes the hotel’s 307 staff have the delicate task of perpetuating the grandeur of this unique establishment.

At the age of 29, Aurélien Largeau has just been rocketed into the role of head chef of this exceptional location. A young prodigy of the world of gastronomy, awarded a star in his previous restaurant, he has a very special history with the luxury hotel. A native of La Rochelle, Aurélien honed his skills in the kitchens of the Hotel du Palais when he graduated catering school. This is where he learnt the tricks of the trade before taking wing for other restaurants. He dreamed of coming back here one day as Chef, but probably not quite so soon!  But it’s happened. At the head of a staff of 40, Aurélien Largeau faces a mighty challenge: “Yes, the Hotel du Palais is a formidable challenge. Maybe I’m reckless… But I’m charging in, head down, with my eyes closed… It’s going to be fine!”

Few chefs in France have been at the helm of such a ship at his age. But Aurélien knows that, at this level, only excellence is acceptable. Despite the pressure, this young man is keeping a cool head and asserts the heading he has set himself: offer clients a refined, responsible cuisine by sourcing supplies as much as possible from the best producers of the Basque country.

For 28 years, Dominique Nougarro has held the post of head housekeeper. In a way, she represents the soul of the hotel. At the age of 55, this energetic woman manages the sixty or so housekeepers and chambermaids who look after the establishment’s 142 rooms. Tirelessly, she caters to the well-being of the foremost rulers of the planet, the richest of business men and simple vacationers. She understands the attention that makes its mark, the slightest gestures that impress the guests and the mistakes that cannot be forgiven. After being closed for 2 years, Dominique is thrilled at getting back to work: “Here we go, it’s official, we’re back on the job. It’s been two years that we’ve been doing, quote, “office work”. We missed the job, the guests, the relationship with the guests… the action… Now, it’s coming back to life!” But she will have her work cut out to get the hotel to its top level. No season will ever have demanded so much effort and patience from her.

It’s unique in France: just a stone’s throw away, the Palais has its own art workshop: carpenters, painter-decorators, upholsterers, dressmakers… 7 craftsmen work full-time for this building listed as an historical monument. At age 34, Romain Voltan is a qualified cabinet maker, an expert in antique furniture. Trained by the former craftsmen of the workshop, this History graduate puts all his expertise into the restoration of the Second Empire furniture that adorns the corridors and bedrooms of the hotel’s five floors. A custodian of the past: a scratch, a deep cut, a door knob or hinge giving up the ghost… And Romain is called to the rescue. His obsession is to make his work both invisible and reversible to guarantee that the furniture will be able to survive the centuries. To achieve this he uses age-old techniques and natural products that will enable future generations to continue his conservation work.

“The idea is to have a coherent whole, that is preserved, that is flattering… in this way the furniture is rescued, stuck back together and there’s no danger of it deteriorating… apart from breakages, it can last a generation, it can last 50 years without being repaired.”

Matthieu is one of the hotel’s latest recruits. For his first job, this 18-year-old student managed to get a position that many of his generation would dream of: beach attendant and waiter at the hotel’s pool, one of the most beautiful in France. Under the demanding yet kindly eye of Christine Masson-Nicolier, the energetic manager, he will be responsible for serving the hotel’s wealthy guests while respecting all the codes of luxury that he is still discovering. As he slaloms, tray in hand, between the 270 deckchairs, overlooking the mythical Biarritz Grand Beach, Matthieu relishes the pleasure of spending the summer season in this unique setting: “I grew up here. I’ve always seen the Hotel du Palais from the outside and to get the chance of working here and discovering my region’s heritage at the same time is a real stroke of luck!”

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