palais diter: the strange tale of a forbidden château

by Sharon Santoni

If you have read my blog for a while, then you’ll know that I don’t normally indulge in idle gossip… but I have a tale to tell you that I find so surprising, I am breaking that self-imposed rule. This is the true story of the so-called Palais Diter in the South of France.

A monumental Hollywood-worthy construction built by one, singularly driven man who thought of every tiny detail except perhaps the most important – acquiring a building permit.

palais diter
Photo A Noor for l’Express

 It defies belief. The incredible Palais Diter started off as a run-down and fairly simple house on a huge parcel of land, abandoned for years and regularly squatted. When Diter bought the property, a permit was obtained to build a small extension. The house was renovated, and gradually, the extensions multiplied and grew to cover nearly 3,000 square meters. Soon the buildings alone were not enough, as Patrick Diter also felt the need for a lake, a pool, a cloister, heliports…

Patrick was deeply involved in the project, micromanaging and even participating in every task and, by all accounts, doing a good job of it. Few people would say that the finished result is not remarkable. But, as I mentioned, his error lied in forgetting to ask permission to extend the original 2,000 ft house to nigh on 30,000 ft.

There is an expression in the South of France: le permis provençal. This refers to the widespread practice of starting to build before having secured permission, effectively presenting authorities with a fait accompli. This usually works out just fine, but not this time. Diter picked the wrong enemies. He sold part of his land to a wealthy British couple, who believed they were purchasing their little corner of quiet and idyllic Provence.

Ongoing legal battles brought on by affected and irate neighbours have put Palais Diter in jeopardy, and bulldozers may soon be arriving. They say the property is by orders of magnitude bigger than it was intended; that its style is uncommon for the area. They are constantly disturbed by construction and receptions and aggrieved by Patrick’s cavalier attitude.

I should add that it may or may not be true that Poutine has regularly rented the place for extravagant holidays including wild and noisy parties. That the property has certainly been used for lengthy film shoots, including huge teams driving in and out of the property for weeks on end. That luxury, high-decibel weddings have been held here, with guests transported by helicopter. Patrick is not what one would call the ideal neighbour.

The constructed surface of the property is indeed shockingly large for Provence, and the Italian-inspired style clashes in the deeply French area. Rules, both written and unwritten, were undoubtedly flouted, but is it right to lay waste to this palace? There is, after all, a certain logic to le permis provençal: what is built is built, if it is not dangerous or visually distressing, why incur the cost of tearing it down?

There is no denying that Palais Diter, in its Italian Neo-Renaissance style, is imposing. Large terraces fan out between the vast buildings, framed by columns whose arches provide a blend of in and outdoor spaces. The huge beige walls are topped by worn-looking tiles and coloured with murals of faded pink. Sprawling staircases link the property’s levels and buildings, trees lawns and flowers create contained gardens. There are too many features to list here, fanning from the spectacular to the outlandish. Swans paddle on lakes, truffles grow beneath the oak trees and so on. The stone cloister is in keeping with the regional theme, but the Moorish-style pavilion, although beautiful, raises some eyebrows. Whilst a heliport may be expected in such a luxurious property, two could reasonably be seen as excessive. As for the fountains, colonnaded gallery, dovecote, turrets, frescoes and more, well… they keep the domed temple company.

There is also no denying Patrick’s passion, and one has to admire his grit and vision for Palais Diter. He was inspired by the love he bears for his wife, an Italian named Monica, who opened his eyes to the beauty of Tuscany. They sourced many of the house’s components there, such as old stones, antique columns and huge chimneys. They hired Italian painters for the frescoes (although Patrick naturally participated in the painting).

The indoors follow in the same vein: large rooms separated by looping arches and high ceilings are adorned with carvings and paintings. Renaissance-style furniture abounds in rooms that are separated by salvaged stone entrances. The variations of colours and styles between these arches is a pleasure in itself, giving the impression of walking through an old village.

Even with hindsight, there is no obvious way that this unpleasant situation, a decade-long court battle to save the property, could have been avoided. The passion that propelled Patrick in building his home is also the impetuousness that led him to shirk established procedures. It is also likely that he would never have received permission had he sought it, his vision being so far beyond the local pale.

That is not to say that local customs are to blame, most of the critics and accusations flung at Patrick are warranted on some level, and some local parties have legitimate grievances. There is however something of the pioneer spirit in Patrick’s story, albeit married by a dose of grandiosity….and selfishness.

What is your opinion? Should #savethepalace become the next trending hashtag and pressure put on Patrick to pay a hefty fine?

Château Diter, Grasse, Cote d’Azur

First photo @A.Noor for l’Express, other photos @chateauditer.

21 comments

Elizabeth January 25, 2021 - 5:03 pm

I don’t feel any admiration for Patrick’s “pioneering spirit.” He’s simply selfish, entitled and does not care that the laws exist to ensure that everyone plays by the same rules so that they can live as peacefully as possible. Prior to my current job, I worked in a municipal planning office and often dealt with the raw selfishness of people’s “dreams.” Everyone turned somersaults to reign them in which diverted energy helping property owners who willingly adhered to building and zoning codes. As for “admiring his grit,” would you admire the nerve of a con artist, a grifter, or a mobster?

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Jayne Turnbull January 26, 2021 - 11:11 am

Not sure how I feel. I feel perplexed that a fully functioning building might be torn down, I feel concern for the lifestyle of his neighbours, Patrick and his dreams seem in tatters, as someone else said perhaps a big fine and high taxes might deter others from doing this

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StitchinSweetSue January 25, 2021 - 5:38 pm

if the locale relies heavily on taxes from this property owner, that would speak volumes on its’ future…

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Taste of France January 25, 2021 - 7:27 pm

I agree with Elizabeth–too bad for the Palais. However, rather than tearing it down, he should be fined a fortune. The entire sale value would be a good amount. Patrick profited over the years from personal use and renting it out. Wonder whether he declared it. And whether the property taxes are for a 3K m2 palace or a 200 m2 one. Impunity hurts everybody, especially those who abide by the rules.
We almost bought a house in a historic area. Some building permits were outstanding, and on checking with the historical preservation authorities, we learned that the place had been a bakery with a stone oven and a wooden spiral staircase that needed to be put back–or else we wouldn’t be allowed to connect electricity.
I’ve just printed out my dossier for some renovations at a different address but in the same historical area. My building isn’t historic, however. It needs new wiring, new floors and a new kitchen. I don’t expect problems, but it is a hurdle to go through, and the Bâtiments de France have to weigh in…on a place from 1950.

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Candace Ford January 25, 2021 - 8:53 pm

What the guy is trying to pull sounds kind of like what our ex (MERCIFULLY) president is trying to pull in Florida. I hope that the other citizens of the area PREVAIL The rest of us (commoners) people seem to have to follow the rules, maybe more so here than where you live.

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linda pederson January 27, 2021 - 12:34 pm

candice-always an opportunity to dis Trump-shame on you-are you loving those open boarders with hoards of people coming in-covid testing????

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Ligia February 5, 2021 - 6:22 am

Thank you, Linda Pederson! Candace, have some manners. This isn’t the place for your political beliefs.

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Ligia February 5, 2021 - 6:24 am

Candace, keep your political hatred to yourself ! This is not the place for it!

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Mary Anna Bailer January 25, 2021 - 9:51 pm

This is a surprisingly unpleasant article. This guy is anything but “endearing”.

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Lisa D. January 25, 2021 - 9:55 pm

It seems like the biggest problem here is that it is used for public venues. If he had just refrained from doing that, perhaps it would not have escalated to this point.

Having had bad neighbors, albeit in a much more ordinary neighborhood than the south of France, I can attest to the misery that they inflict on others. It seems as though the local municipality has not been on top of things and neglected their responsibility in stepping up to the plate and handling this more expeditiously. It sounds sadly like Patrick is not willing to remove the part(s) that violate local codes, and abide by the law, so the palace will probably go, unless a very wealthy buyer steps in to purchase it and make the necessary changes so that it complies with local building codes. It’s too bad as it is very beautiful. I just hope the city doesn’t green light “condos” to replace it. That would be an even worse scenario!

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Emm January 25, 2021 - 11:02 pm

I have to agree with Taste of France and Candace Ford. It is a lovely palace, although it’s also remarkably vulgar and out of place. If he liked Tuscany so much, why didn’t he build there.
You could compare people who flout building codes to those who refuse to wear masks in a pandemic — they think what they do is just fine, and tant pis to the rest of the world. The French tax people are likely sharpening their pencils even now.

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Terra January 25, 2021 - 11:13 pm

I hope a compromise can be reached; perhaps allow the palais to remain but no more weddings, disruptive events, etc. so the neighbors will have peace and quiet.

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Eileen Rees January 26, 2021 - 3:08 am

Le permis provencal not withstanding, since the building clearly took place in stages over years, you do have to wonder why it was not stopped much earlier, particularly if there were objections registered? Pity those poor Brits thinking they had bought their little piece of paradise. Anyone who has lived anywhere close to a helipad can attest to the sheer horror of the clattering arrivals and departures at all hours of the day and night. Alas, their use increasingly seems de rigeur for the great and the not-so-good.

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Barbra January 28, 2021 - 2:23 pm

Niech to bezczelne bydlę odkupi skrawek ziemi od ludzi, których skrzywdził. Stać go było na przychylność nadzoru budowlanego przez lata to niech choć zadośćuczynienie zrobi.

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Jayne Turnbull January 26, 2021 - 11:10 am

Not sure how I feel. I feel perplexed that a fully functioning building might be torn down, I feel concern for the lifestyle of his neighbours, Patrick and his dreams seem in tatters, as someone else said perhaps a big fine and high taxes might deter others from doing this

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Giftbasketworldwide January 28, 2021 - 9:34 am

It looks absolutely amazing.

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Constance February 4, 2021 - 2:54 pm

Bless the French! When it comes to preserving the lifestyle and aesthetics of the “terroir”, they are tops. I mean, anyone who has lived in France knows you have to have formal approval of the color you plan to paint your shutters before you actually paint, and, heaven forbid you should use Breton blue in the Oise. Mr. Diter is subject to the same rules as everyone else, no exceptions for the rich and famous.

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Peter wagner February 7, 2021 - 3:02 pm

Jealousy drives small minds to vengeance.

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Jerry Anne February 7, 2021 - 4:08 pm

Save this beautiful home and sure fine him appro !

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Ligia Klaver February 8, 2021 - 2:42 am

Interesting article, Sharon. Rules should apply to everyone. I do wish this beautiful home would be saved.

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Sheila in SF February 15, 2021 - 3:48 am

How is it he managed to build without the planning department becoming aware of the construction during all those years?

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