Patrick Diter must have thought his luck had run out when La Cour de Cassation, France’s highest judicial court, ruled in December 2020 that the dream house he’d illegally built in the South of France over the past 20 years, a 30,000-square-foot, faux-Italianate Xanadu estimated to have cost upwards of $60 million, needed to be destroyed.
There were no more appeals possible. Time had run out. All that remained was the wrecking ball, swung either by his own hand—within an 18-month grace period—or by the French state’s afterward.
Diter, a brash, self-made real-estate developer from the Paris suburbs, had been in a legal cage match with locals after having bought a tranquil Provence hillside filled with olive trees and goats in 2000. Almost from the beginning, neighbors complained about constant noise, roads carved through protected forests, and a dizzying construction based on what one person called “a master class in how to fool planners.” Diter countered that he had all the permits necessary to do what he was doing—they’d just come a bit after the fact—and what was really driving his adversaries was jealousy. “It’s a bit Salieri and Mozart,” Diter’s wife, Monica, told Le Parisien.
The 18-year-old standoff pitted new money vs. old, Gatsby bling vs. A Year in Provence, while serving as a referendum on the shady state of local politics and real-estate development in the South of France. It all culminated with the gavel-slamming decision to knock Château Diter down to the ground.
Diter himself seemed resigned to his fate, saying to Le Parisien in a 2017 interview following his first court loss: “If the justice says I need to raze it, I’ll raze it. But it would be a shame because it’s a work of art. I was the example of the guy who came from the street and who didn’t have access. I flew too high for everyone, and they needed to cut my wings.”
Flash forward to 2023 and Château Diter is still standing. Its lengthy aquamarine pool is still full, its medieval-style cloisters and alabaster archways still welcoming, and its sumptuous rooms and Logan Roy helicopter pads still at the ready. While other illegally built properties in environmentally protected areas of France have been swiftly demolished, Château Diter is open for business.
“I flew too high for everyone, and they needed to cut my wings.”
“The impressive Renaissance property is characterized by an elegant atmosphere created by opulent furniture, imposing fireplaces, Venetian chandeliers and wonderful frescoes, creating a real sense of luxury and decadence guests can relax in.” That’s the description of Château Diter on the Boutique Hotel Awards Web site, where it is listed as one of the site’s finest properties.
Boutique Hotel Awards has been renting out Château Diter for almost three years for the princely sum of $120,000–$160,000 per week, says an agent. This price depends on whether you want a top chef provided on-site or not.
And no, they’re not afraid to let you know of the legal limbo the property is currently in. In fact, it’s a selling point. “You may not be aware there’s an ongoing court battle with the property,” says the agent, “so you probably want to see it before it gets knocked down.”
See-it-before-it’s-demolished luxury tourism is just one of the ways Patrick Diter has managed to draw blood from these condemned stones. Film production is another.
Aficionados of the hit series Emily in Paris might recognize Château Diter making an appearance in Season Two’s second episode. In it, Emily and her friends find themselves invited up into the hills for a party at a notable art collector’s home, known as “Ragazzi House.” Once there, Emily drinks champagne, mingles with guests, and texts OMGs poolside while a jet-pack-wearing saxophone player hovers over the pool because, you know, it’s France.
“The house was enormous,” says Laura Bercholz, a French location manager for Emily in Paris. “It was fairly easy to prepare for, considering everything was already super-manicured and laid out, a bit too laid out, a bit Disneyfied, actually.”
Bercholz says she first heard of Château Diter from a colleague who’d worked there in 2017 on another series, Riviera, starring Julia Stiles. For Emily in Paris, 300 extras were brought in by car and bus, a caterer was on hand, and the château itself was used for green rooms and dressing rooms for actors. The shoot was fully insured, and Diter never asked Bercholz to sign any kind of confidentiality agreement. “Considering the legal issues surrounding the place,” says Bercholz, “some of us found it curious the Diters could be hosting something like this.”
It takes a real devil-may-care attitude to loan out your property to one of Netflix’s most successful shows while bulldozers loom. But this behavior is on-brand for Diter. For 20 years now he’s flouted work-stoppage orders and inspection reports, hosted week-long, deafening Bollywood weddings, and shot at neighbors’ drones with his rifle. Yet some in the town of Grasse, within whose boundaries the château is built, see the recent activity as one Tiger King–esque provocation too far.
“It’s unbelievable. People are laughing at us!” says Paul Euzière, an outraged member of Grasse’s city council. “As part of the court’s decision [in 2020], Diter was ordered to pay a daily fine of 500 euros starting June 2022 if the property was not demolished. And as far as I know, nothing has come into Grasse, and nothing has been billed. Now I hear he’s shooting a series and renting it out? Where is the tax revenue then? Why hasn’t anyone done anything?”
Euzière has formally requested the procureur (head prosecutor) of the Alpes-Maritimes region, in which the château is located, along with its préfet (chief of police), Bernard Gonzalez, to explain why neither has executed the 2020 court order. He also wants some answers from his own mayor.
“Until now,” says Euzière, “all we’ve received from this sordid affair in fines and restitution is one euro. One. In 2018, a group of us asked the city [of Grasse] to appeal and demand more [$108,000], seeing the scandal hurt our international image. Now we learn the lawyer we hired never made the actual appeal! He just went to court and sat there and billed us for his time. It’s gangsterism, pure and simple.”
Virginie Lachaut-Dana, the winning attorney for Château Diter’s neighbors—a group headed by the wealthy Franco-English couple Stephen and Caroline Butt—echoes Euzière’s frustration but admits her hands are tied.
“As the lawyer for the civil parties, I can’t apply the law. Now that the judgment has been rendered, it’s the state who must administer justice, and they don’t have to consult with me about when they’re going to do it.... It’s all on the state. They can arrive when they want, or not. There have been demolitions that have happened faster, so I don’t know why this is taking so long.”
For precedent, one need only look to the infamous villa of renowned real-estate developer Christian Pellerin. Pellerin, who led the development of the La Défense district of Paris, and who was a close friend of President Mitterand, built his dream house on a protected parcel of land on the tip of Cap d’Antibes. Like Diter, he started with a permit to enlarge his house there by 700 square feet, then took that permit and ran wild, growing it another 23,000 square feet. Following 12 years of litigation, Pellerin was found guilty of misuse of corporate assets, fined, and sentenced to one year in prison. The property was razed in 2002.
“It’s unbelievable. People are laughing at us!”
Jean-Pierre Murciano, the now retired judge who worked both the Pellerin and Diter cases, sees both men as two sides of the same coin. “Although different in certain ways [Pellerin’s villa had long been abandoned], it’s obvious both would never have been able to go as far as they did without the complicity of elected officials. In the South of France what you have is a group of people at the highest levels helping each other.”
Just look at Diter’s legal team, Murciano says. One of his lawyers, Philippe Soussi, represents the Alpes-Maritimes region in the French parliament while also doubling as the deputy mayor of Nice. “We’ve gotten to the point where the deputy mayor of Nice is in court defending a delinquent. And standing across the bench from him is a fellow mayor [Grasse’s mayor], who in this case claims to be a victim. We have an expression down here: La connivance remplace la compétence [Complicity replaces competence].” Murciano says demolitions aren’t a question of economics but of political will, and it very much differs by region.
“Each day of inaction,” says Lachaut-Dana, “is basically saying, If you commit an infraction and don’t execute the order, you risk nothing.... We have folks who transform their garage into a kid’s room and are slapped with fines and ordered to stop work, but someone who’s built a mansion in an environmentally protected area which risks fire or flood, stands. C’est pas normale.”
But is it normale for Diter to still occupy the property, let alone have 300 TV extras as his guests there?
“As long as the house isn’t a condemned building that might cave in, he can live inside it,” says Lachaut-Dana. “Normally, of course, you’re supposed to leave the area, and execute the penal decision—not exploit the place as a business.”
Diter’s wife, Monica, says there hasn’t been much activity at Château Diter, “because of all the hurt that’s been thrown our way. C’est dommage. [Air Mail] weren’t very nice in your last piece,” she says. “It seems it’s a lot easier to spit on things than to give a balanced perspective.”
The mayor of Grasse’s office confirmed they were aware of the Emily in Paris shoot. “But,” they say, “since Château Diter is a private property, we have no control on what goes on up there.” When asked if the city was collecting any taxes on the revenue generated by the château’s rentals and film productions, Grasse’s press officer could not say, and when asked if the city was moving to demolish according to the court order, they said, “It is the work of the state to put that in motion, not the mayor’s office.”
Diter’s lawyers, Louis Ribière and Phillipe Soussi, declined to comment, as did the head préfet de police for the region, Bernard Gonzalez. Diter himself did not respond to messages.
It seems that when it comes to the giant house on the hill, nobody knows much about anything right now. It’s as if everyone is following the mantra the Emily in Paris Instagram page featured after the episode in question was broadcast:
“Whatever happens at Ragazzi House stays at Ragazzi House!”
John von Sothen is a Paris-based writer, a frequent contributor to AIR MAIL, and the author of Monsieur Mediocre