26 December 2014
A Tunisian Residence
The golden book of a young legend
Only yesterday, the brand new Hotel Résidence brought bevy of stars to Tunisia. A jet chartered by Pierre Balmain arrived the day before, delivering the happy few to the sparkling palace.
In the evening, in the cosy salons of the palace, guests gathered together without fuss. Stéphane Audran praised the guests of honour, Gérard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve mentioned their day excursion to visit families in need. A long cortege of limousines, kicking up the Tunisian dust, had accompanied the two stars in a slightly surreal entourage to a tiny hamlet, forgotten by all. At the end of three days of festivities, a fabulous soirée and a charity fashion show united all of Paris’ media in a buzzing atmosphere. This weekend, the only place to be was the Residence.
Since its foundation in 1996, celebrities from all walks of life have effectively followed one another to the most beautiful hotel in Tunis, leaving tender words at the end of their stay, in the guestbook. And this most precious behind-the-scenes document comes to the forefront exclusively for Plume Voyage.
For Jacques Chirac, his comments were vigorous and easy, and deliberately underlined. And besides his reside the more retiring words of Bernadette and Maryvonne Pinault. More reserved, Nelson Mandela made do with a simple discrete signature, dated 26th March 2004. This relic occupies an entire page in the book. Between Kofi Annan and Albert de Monaco, Stéphane Hessel thanks the hotel for a magnificent evening. Hilary Clinton simply signed in a typed font, marvelling at the glorious sea-view from her suite. “We scarcely saw her. She was constantly running from one meeting to the next, like most politicians. Official visits are always last minute”, regrets one of the spa’s masseuses. In contrast, Philippe Séguin was one of the regulars that loved to come to pamper himself. A loyal guest until the end, he stayed at the hotel just a fortnight before his death. And then, another word from Hilary Clinton, this time written by hand. The American politician spent another visit just a month later. Always on the move…
Whilst these politicians appreciate this secluded spot far from the city centre, it is also for security. “Here, they can be calm and avoid the crowds,” notes managing director David Sierra. The teams of the heads of state arrive fluidly with an entourage of fifteen cars and their security teams surround the grounds of the hotel. They can rent up to 80 rooms. In 2009, Sarkozy required around sixty rooms. The Frenchman used to come on personal business, before being elected.
On a light note, stars of the big screen often arrive incognito. Clients of the hotel could not believe their eyes as they caught a glimpse of Angelina Jolie, discretely disguised in an armchair, consulting her mail whilst waiting for her lunch. So beautiful and so generous…
Claudia Cardinale used to appear after lunch, as she craved coffee. “I would love to stay here forever” wrote enthusiast Jean Claude Brialy in 97. “I’ll have to find an excuse to come back as soon as possible” added Marlène Jobert. Guy Bedos arrived at the same conclusion after a family holiday.
The Résidence gets itself noticed for its golf facilities, making it a definite destination for playboys. “Hugh Grant came for three days with his dad. I played with him once. With his drooping eyes, when he plays he is so graceful. He is a great player” admits the club manager. Yannick Noah took part in one such tournament, then graciously decided to return the entire prize. More of an unknown, Madame Soleil also enjoyed what the Résidence has to offer, making a different prediction every day, with the precision of a metronome, although sadly nothing to do with the hotel. Shame!
And musicians are not to be outdone in this star-studded farandole. And one of them, Gilbert Bécaud, became the hotel’s first client on 7th December 1996, even before its official opening. “He came for a concert. He was the only guest seeing as no reservations had yet been taken. He stayed alone in his suite for three nights, with the entire staff at his disposal. It was a strange situation, because a hotel before its opening is a strange place to be. It is like performing on stage without any spectators.” “A friendly and joyful stay” concluded the crooner on his departure.
And of course there have been others, from James Brown to Enrico Mathias and Sting, who came on tour, accompanied by his wife or even the “terrible agreeable” Adamo who visited twice, spreading his lyricism and enthusiasm through his words “the warmth of your welcome”…There have also been other anonymous celebrities. They have scrawled such illegible signatures that nobody knows who is who. “This ‘kiss’ from Lara, would that be Lara Fabian?” “But of course, all the stars have stayed here you know.”
Eighteen years after its opening, the Résidence remains an essential spot for jetsetters. Despite everything, the palace has experienced a few rough spells during the Arab spring, without losing any of its glory. “During the curfew, it became complicated for the staff. It was also difficult to receive supplies, and the atmosphere was tense. Nobody knew what would happen each today” recounts David Sierra.
Little by little, the situation fortunately resolved itself and the country, since the day after elections, seems to have regained its serenity and optimism. The hotel is in the midst of its renaissance and a magnificently renovated spa has also recently opened its doors. The Résidence bar has also remained a place to spot remarkable guests, such as entrepreneurs and local policymakers. Gradually, the palace has been able to rediscover the glamour behind its existence. “It takes time for a hotel to find its feet but after eighteen years, it has truly found its soul” concludes the master of the house, as he closes his guestbook…