A mysterious name for the residence which, nestled in the forests of the Château de Versailles, might be the best-hidden of France’s estates.
Originally, this building was a modest hunting lodge with three rooms, built for Count Philippe de Noailles, governor of Versailles and captain of the king's hunts, and to whom King Louis XV had donated a property “in the garden of Versailles behind the Ménagerie” in April 1760.
Twenty years later, his son, the Prince of Poix, made a significant extension to the building in order to live there, and added outhouses to the main building. It was apparently due to the exceptional brightness of the place that it became known as the “Lantern”, with 35 French doors that let the sunlight stream in throughout the day. Unfortunately, the Prince de Poix did not stay long in the lodge. When he emigrated, at the beginning of the Revolution in 1789, La Lanterne was sold as a national asset in 1794 and purchased by private owners.
In 1818, King Louis XVIII succeeded in purchasing the lodge using his own personal treasury. Following major renovations, the residence entered the Estate of the Crown in 1824. This was followed by a lengthy period of leases to various political and higher education figures, often connected with neighbouring military and farming schools.
In the 1880s, the lodge was rented to individuals, first to Baron Maurice de Hirsch, a powerful financier, and then to American James Gordon Bennett, who reconnected the lodge with its original purpose by organizing major hunts. La Lanterne then fell under the authority of the Ministry of Public Instruction and Fine Arts in 1920.
After a period of occupation by the Germans during the Second World War, the President of the Interim Government, Félix Gouin, moved in. A major renovation campaign included new bathrooms and a central heating system. Following this renovation, for almost ten years, between 1949 and 1957, La Lanterne hosted the sumptuous receptions of an American tenant, Ambassador David Bruce.
In 1959, at the request of President Charles de Gaulle, the house was reassigned a new purpose: secondary residence of the Prime Minister. Michel Debré, who held this position at the time, resided there assiduously. Georges Pompidou, who succeeded him in April 1962, made La Lanterne available to the Minister for Culture, André Malraux, whose residence in Boulogne was targeted by an attack by the OAS (a paramilitary organization active during the war in Algeria). Upon his departure from office in April 1969, with the resignation of Charles de Gaulle, La Lanterne once again was used by the prime ministers.
Only in 2007, at the request of Nicolas Sarkozy, was La Lanterne transferred from the prime minister to the president of the Republic, thereby revealing its previously unknown existence to the public.
Today, the Lanterne lodge is the President of the Republic's second residence. Just like the Fort of Bregançon, in the Var (southeast France), it offers the head of State a place to retreat in a relaxing, secure environment.