When Cher visited the Chateau de Marouatte, music mogul Miles Copeland’s castle in Dordogne, it wasn’t to sample the region’s famous foie gras — though she did — or to scour the shops for gothic antiques — though she did that, too.
The pop diva was not on vacation. Au contraire.
Sans entourage, Cher had fled to a remote corner of southwestern France — an area with no cell phone reception! — to attend a songwriters’ bootcamp.
She’s just one of the many Hollywood celebrities and industry execs riding the latest exotic “working vacation” wave and heading to the hexagon.
For less than the price of several suites at the Ritz, you and 25 best friends can have an entire centuries-old chateau — and the privacy that entails — all to yourselves. Sherry Lansing and William Friedkin recently celebrated their wedding anniversary at the Chateau de Bagnols outside Lyons, which has hosted Tom Cruise, Barbra Streisand, Bruce Willis and, during the G7 summit, Hillary Clinton with assorted statesmen’s wives.
Sharon Stone and Pamela Anderson have rented the Chateau de Grimaldi outside Aix-en-Provence.
Copeland bought his 14-bedroom Chateau de Marouatte and the surrounding 270 acres almost a decade ago “on the spur of the moment.” Then he and wife Adriana wondered, “What the hell are we going to do with it?”
This was during a buying frenzy that had American baby boomers snapping up extraordinary Euro estates quicker than you could say “Nasdaq.”
“I decided to use the castle for business,” Copeland tells Variety. For each “invitation only” retreat, Copeland pulls together a disparate group of 24 songwriters and puts them to work.
He summons superstars — Jeff Beck, Carole King, Ted Nugent, brother Stewart Copeland — as well as artists looking for songs for upcoming albums. To this mix, Copeland adds artists from his label, Ark 21, and management company, Firstars.
Bootcamp days begin at 10:30 a.m. Copeland divides participants into groups of three, making sure to mix his emerging artists with professional scribes and superstars to maximize the hit-making potential. The participants write and record in three 16-track studios, with breaks for meals prepared by a Cordon Bleu chef.
“It’s like the army,” Copeland says seriously.
So far, the sessions have netted more than 100 hit songs. The title track from Celine Dion’s “The Reason” was written at the castle by King, Hudson and Greg Wells. “Crash,” from Arrowsmith’s “Nine Lives” album, was written by Hudson and Dominic Miller.
Bon Jovi, who will return next September, credits his stay with inspiring “Crush.”
“It was one of the most interesting experiences I have ever had and one of the most enjoyable,” Cher tells Variety.
“It’s easy to lose the inspiration and forget why you got into the business in the first place,” Copeland states. “Plus, these are people who don’t mingle. Cher said it’s hard for her to make friends, but suddenly she had 24 new ones.”
That’s the kind of bonding experience stars of that stature only find at Herb Allen’s retreat or in rehab.
Copeland also rents out his chateau to individuals for £4,000 ($5,800) a week. A media mogul friend always books the month of August.
“He calls it his place in France and invites all his friends,” Copeland says.
San Francisco real estate maven Olivia Hsu Decker bought the Chateau de Grimaldi, inspired by a search for “exotic places to vacation” by such celeb clients of hers as Eddie Murphy and Don Johnson. With Bay Area prices skyrocketing, Decker found she got more bang for her buck in Europe.
She restored the 17th-century 10-bedroom chateau in five months, bringing amenities up to American standards, adding dramatic lighting, a tennis court and a pool.
The endeavor was so successful — the place is rented year-round despite its $15,000- to $17,000-a-week pricetag “just for the real estate” — that Decker recently bought the even grander Chateau de Villette on 200 acres outside Paris.
The 11-bedroom Chateau de Villette rents for $3,500 a day. For $1,500 a day more, Decker throws in an adjacent residence with seven additional suites. Decker plans to install a screening room to lure the Hollywood crowd to what is already a popular French feature film location.
Lord and Lady Helen Hamlyn took four years to restore the 13th-century Chateau de Bagnols.
The 20-bedroom spread, which includes six apartments in the chateau and two in the residence, a moat, medieval towers and panoramic views of the Beaujolais vineyards, rents for $12,500. For another $4,800 the Hamlyns will also bar tourists from their gourmet restaurant.
It’s just a matter of time before Hollywood kings and queens will be bidding Aspen adieu and conducting le business in France instead.
In a real palace, no less.