Paris and Versailles Pop-Up Trip, Fall 2023

The French-American Cultural Foundation (F-ACF) was delighted to host 52 American guests for our 2023 Pop-Up Trip to France.

From September 30 through October 1, we had a magical experience starting with a welcome lunch at Cercle de l’Union Interalliée in Paris followed by a dinner at Restaurant le Limousin in Versailles. The next day, F-ACF hosted our guests for an extraordinary evening at the annual Gala to benefit the Royal Opera at Château de Versailles. This was a very special trip that we’ll be talking about for a long time. Following are highlights from the weekend.

Welcome Lunch at Cercle de l’Union Interalliée, Paris

While this was not the first event we’ve hosted at the Interalliée, it was the first time we were able to use the garden – and what a spectacular day it was for it.

The Interalliée is the most exclusive club in Paris. The building was previously the Hotel Henri de Rothschild, and it is grand in every way featuring fabulous tapestries, notable paintings, historic documents, and important letters. Located on Rue du Faubourg St.-Honore, the proximity of the Interalliée to other important buildings, including Elysee Palace and the residences of the U.S. and British ambassadors to France, is what made it so significant and useful during and after World War II. It’s a great place to start any visit to Paris.

In addition to our American guests, we were honored to host Catherine Pégard, President of Versailles, and Maxime Ohayon, Director of Development for Château de Versailles Spectacles. It meant a lot to our group for these representatives of Versailles to join us for lunch the day before their major annual event, and our American guests were overwhelmed by the opportunity to meet and spend time with them.

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Dinner at Restaurant le Limousin, Versailles

Le Limousin has become one of our favorite places to host dinners in France. The growth of our guest list for these dinners reflects the growth that F-ACF has experienced over the past year. During our 2022 trip to Paris, we hosted a table of 12 for our dinner at Le Limousin. This year, we had that table plus a private room next door and our group had tripled in size.

This is a beautiful local bistro with outstanding food and a great reputation. We had a delicious salad topped with foie gras, and their specialty for the main course is lamb. The meal was accompanied by beautiful wines and a gorgeous course of multiple desserts.

The staff at the restaurant is always so accommodating and a pleasure to work with when planning a special dinner. It was a relaxing way to end a day of travel and events.

The ADOR’s Gala Dinner 2023, Château de Versailles

For F-ACF to bring 52 American guests to Versailles was a big deal – something that has never previously been done by a partner organization. The Gala sold out with approximately 500 total guests in attendance. Our group included interesting and prominent people who aren’t easily impressed, but they were blown away by their evening at Versailles. Even though this is an annual event, it is a different experience every time, and returning visitors were delighted and surprised.

From the event program: “The Royal Opera, witness to so many exceptional artistic moments over the centuries, is today, once again, the setting for an utterly unique program where season after season the greatest artists and ensembles of the world bring to life one of the greatest musical traditions of the world.”

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Album photo credits: François Goizé, Franck Putigny, Farah Siblini

To start and end the evening, guests accessed the Palace through the Royal Gates which are never open to the public, so that was a magical way to approach and depart the Gala. 

An outstanding performance in the Royal Opera House showcased the beneficiary of the evening’s fundraising efforts. In particular, the alto soloist, Nicolò Balducci was unbelievable. This young man is Italian by birth but has lived in France for years. In addition to his incredible performance, our group had the opportunity to speak with him following the Gala. Two of our American guests had become lost as they were departing Versailles, and Nicolò walked them back to the hotel, so he was invited to join the group for a drink where we had the opportunity to hear about his life and what it’s like to sing at the Royal Opera. He stressed how much the opera feels like family, how people look out for each other, and there is good camaraderie. We’ll be reading great things about him in the future.

After the Royal Opera performance, guests were treated to a champagne reception in the Crusades Room followed by a baroque dancing performance. As we strolled through the Palace rooms, including the king’s bedroom, to a champagne reception, we had the opportunity to take photos in front of windows while a stunning sunset took place behind us.

At the dinner, tables were set with elaborate lamp structures to light the room. The lamps were created specifically for this event in Paris by master chandelier maker Beau & Bien. The base was made with limestone from the area. The top was a prism, and beneath it was a prototype of a typical Versailles chandelier drop, but with a modern overlay. The lamps were sold to raise funds for the Royal Opera.

The head Chef for the dinner was Hélène Darroze, a French chef who has six Michelin stars between three restaurants. Dinner was served in the Galerie des Batailles and the theme was red and pink. Guests of all ages were also decked in bright yellow, pink, red, and teal ensembles, and it was fun to be in such a colorful and vibrant room. One of our guests wore a dress just like one of those unique black prom dresses online and earrings that her grandmother had worn to Versailles decades before, which was a really special way to mark the evening.

Women were welcome to wear flat shoes and carry heels as there was a coat check for storing items during the event. That was very much appreciated by our guests, as Versailles is a large property and you do a lot of walking on ancient uneven cobblestones. It was also an unusually hot evening, but no one cared because it was such an amazing experience, everyone stayed until the end, and jackets off became acceptable.

Even though the hotel bar at the Waldorf Astoria Versailles – Trianon Palace closes at midnight, when our group returned at 11:45 pm and wanted a final glass of champagne, the hotel accommodated our guests in the lobby and called it “room service” – a fun way to end an amazing evening. 

We are beyond thrilled that we were able to organize such a great group of guests – and financial support – for the Royal Opera at Versailles. The Gala organizers have asked us to address the audience from the stage at next year’s event, which will take place on September 29, 2024!