Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams. . . . The Palais Garnier, arguably the world’s most famous opera house, will soon set the stage for a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming overnight experience in Paris. A total of 700,000 visitors pass through the gilded halls every year, gaping at the monumental marble staircase, the eight-ton chandelier, the colorful ceiling fresco painted by Marc Chagall. But nobody gets to spend the night. Now, for the first time on July 16, 2023, one lucky couple will be able to roam the corridors—a labyrinth of more than seven miles—with only the Phantom for company. Your digs? The sumptuous Box of Honor, meticulously restored, which Airbnb is offering for a symbolic 37 euros (the box number).
Airbnb is no stranger to buzzy stunts like this. Remember the overnight at the Hobbiton set from Lord of the Rings? The sleepover inside the Louvre’s pyramid? The stay at the Chicago-area house that served as the film set for Home Alone? But what makes this different isn’t just the extraordinary Parisian monument that’s recognized the world over. The overnight at the Palais Garnier coincides with the final Broadway run of The Phantom of the Opera (April 16), while also showcasing Airbnb’s support of heritage tourism.
Last year Airbnb donated 5.6 million euros to the Fondation du Patrimoine (Heritage Foundation) to aid the restoration of centuries-old properties across the French countryside. “What makes Airbnb are the homes and the hosts, so by investing in older properties, we’re investing in the beautiful stories attached to them,” said Emmanuel Marill, Airbnb’s director for Europe, Middle East, and Africa, during an exclusive preview of the Paris Opera experience. “The Palais Garnier is the ultimate heritage experience so it’s a showcase for Airbnb’s heritage category. For guests looking for authentic experiences, you can stay in 6,000 different castles and manors just in France.”
Heritage inspires as much pride in the French as their national soccer team, and Airbnb aims to accelerate this already popular tourism trend, while also investing in sustainability to make homes more energy-efficient.
“I’ve been dreaming about this for five years, ever since we opened our office across the street from the Paris Opera,” said Marill. “This is one of the most beautiful sites in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.”
Commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III as a palace in the heart of the city, the Palais Garnier has been the place to see and be seen since its inauguration in 1875. The facade alone is instantly recognizable—a symbol of the city itself. But many of its secret places are off limits to visitors, including the rooftop where beehives produce honey and the subterranean “lake” that was fictionalized as the Phantom’s lair. The overnight guests will be able to see this real-life cistern, bigger than an Olympic pool at 54 x 45 meters, which today serves as a reservoir in case of fire. Here in the murky dark, Paris firefighters partake in underwater training.
The “host” of this Airbnb experience is Véronique Leroux, the great-granddaughter of novelist Gaston Leroux. Before Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical sold out theaters, Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera was a bestselling 1910 novel that captured imaginations around the world. “Agatha Christie was inspired by him,” explained Leroux. “His works are considered the ‘science fiction’ of the era. He started his career as a journalist and all his novels were inspired by true events.”
That dramatic chandelier crash that’s an emblematic moment for the musical? It actually happened in 1896—though it wasn’t the light but a counterweight that tragically fell on the audience. The ghost that haunted the premises? After the 1873 fire that destroyed the Salle Le Peletier, the Paris Opera’s previous home, a pianist—disfigured in the fire—was said to hide beneath the Palais Garnier to grieve the loss of his ballerina fiancé.
“At the Opera, the truth is actually stranger than fiction,” said guide Sandrine Faucher.
It’s these anecdotes and more which Leroux will share with the Opera’s overnight guests. For the last 40 years, Leroux reigned over a popular Montmartre restaurant called La Cave de Gaston Leroux, which also served as a museum keeping alive her great-grandfather’s memory. She actually trained as a ballerina at the Paris Opera when she was seven years old. “At the end of the season’s formation, we had to pass a dance competition but the worst was the medical test. They said, come back next year if you’ve put on two to three kilos. I was cut because I was too skinny!”
For the Airbnb chamber, Leroux loaned two original first-edition books, which take pride of place on the antique bedside table next to a pair of vintage opera glasses. Airbnb restored the Box of Honor, done up in plush fabrics and antiques sourced from the famous Paris flea markets, with the help of historians and archivists. This makeover is part of a larger Airbnb donation to support the restoration project of the Palais Garnier boxes. From this vantage point, you can take in the majesty of the auditorium, the world’s largest Italian-style theater, inside which you could fit the Arc de Triomphe.
The red velvet seats will be empty, but the Phantom’s Box No. 5? Beware “The Point of No Return.”
How to book it
The overnight stay will take place on Sunday, July 16, 2023, and costs 37 euros (US$40). The booking will open at 6 p.m. CET (12 p.m. ET) on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, at airbnb.com/opera.
The stay includes:
Accommodations inside the Box of HonorA guided tour of the Palais Garnier’s secret areas not usually open to the public, including the underground cisternA private ballet performance by one of the Paris Opera’s dancersA champagne aperitif with a performance by the Paris Opera AcademyDinner in the Foyer de la Danse, historically used by ballerinas to rehearse in front of patrons before taking to the stageA tour of the top-floor dance studios to take in the Paris panoramas Mary Winston Nicklin