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