Chateau des Milandes, Dordogne

Written by on January 8, 2019 in Aquitaine, Museums and Châteaux

people holding umbrellas in front of a castle of cream coloured stone

A short ride from Sarlat, in the gorgeous countryside of Dordogne, you’ll find the Chateau and gardens of Milandes. It’s the former home of Josephine Baker, legendary entertainer of the early 20th century…

History of Chateau des Milandes

There was a fort on the site for hundreds of years in the village of Les Milandes. However in the late 15th century, the Lord of Castelnaud, Francois de Caumont, built the chateau we see as a wedding present for his wife. He created terraces and gardens leading down to the river. And the castle was designed in French Renaissance style, all towers and turrets, it’s very romantic.

The Caumont family lived there until the French Revolution, and though the chateau survived, it became run down.

In the 1930’s, Josephine Baker, a wildly popular American singer and dancer whose performances in Paris cabaret are legendary, fell in love with the chateau. She rented it as a holiday home and spent as much time as she could there. During WWII she even ran an arm of the French Resistance from here, hiding and helping British RAF pilots Poles and Belgians.

In 1947 the castle was put up for sale and Josephine Baker bought it.

Josephine Baker at the Chateau des Milandes

Art deco style bathroom with black shiny tiles, embellished with gold, a silk gown hanging up

Josephine lavished money on the chateau, installing glamorous bathrooms with black Murano glass tiles and real gold embellishments. She took her inspiration from perfumes she was wearing. The black and gold theme for instance came from Arpege, a classic Lanvin.

Adopting 12 children, Josephine created her dream “world village”. Her goal was to give a home to orphaned children of different races, religious and nationalities. She was a fierce civil rights activist, marched with Martin Luther King and, as an African-American suffered from racism herself. In a restaurant in New York, waiters refused to serve her because she was black. Grace Kelly was at another table and witnessed the act. Disgusted by the staff, she led her entire table out. The two women became firm friends after this.

Josephine opened a theatre and a park and put on performances at the Chateau. Some of the older locals recall up to 4000 cars arriving as people flocked to see her. She helped improve living conditions in the town, installing electricity and water, putting up bus shelters and helping out in the community.

Chateau des Milandes today

Portrait of Josephine Baker in uniform of World War II

However, the business plans for the chateau didn’t work and in 1964, Josephine was forced to sell her beloved home. She had by then accrued a mountain of debts. Grace Kelly offered her friend a villa to use in Monaco. Josephine lived there until her death in 1975.

At the Chateau, it feels as if time has stood still. The current owners have kept as much as possible just as it was and it looks much as it did when Josephine was here. Her bedroom is as it was, there are children’s toys in some bedrooms, the bathrooms are glorious.

Table with cups laid out and walnuts ready for shelling

There are display cabinets of her wonderful costumes, jewellery and accessories (no photos, as they’re not allowed). The kitchen is virtually untouched.

In the attic there is space dedicated to Josephine’s work in WWII. After contacting General de Gaulle and offering to help, she worked as a nurse, toured to sing to troops and delivered messages written in invisible ink on music sheets. The chateau was used for storing ammunition and weapons and supporting the work of the local Resistance.

It makes for a fascinating visit, you really get a feel for this talented woman who was ahead of her time. The castle is beautiful, the gardens are lovely (from Spring to Autumn there’s a fabulous birds of prey show) and it’s well worth a detour.


More on Sarlat

A true time warp town – Sarlat is gorgeous
Sarlat Truffle Festival 
Truffle hunting in Dordogne
Sarlat in Photos
Sarlat market day – one of the best markets in France

Related Articles

Bastide | Off the beaten track in Bordeaux

Most visitors to Bordeaux keep to the left bank where historic Bordeaux is located, but head to the right bank for a different vibe and more fun! Rive Droite Bordeaux | Right Bank Bastide, or “rive droite” was until recently a sleepy neighbourhood on the opposite side of the centre of Bordeaux, across the Garonne […]

Continue Reading

Discover the Chateau de Chenonceau in pictures

When I was a little girl, I had an idea of what a fairy tale castle would like. It would have towers and turrets and pointy bits. My dream chateau would have grand doors and huge rooms for dancing and partying. It would be filled with flowers. And it would have the most beautiful gardens […]

Continue Reading

Truffle hunting in Dordogne

Truffle hunting in Dordogne

Written by on January 2, 2019 in Aquitaine, Gastronomy

Truffles are one of those foods that you either love or hate. They’re not a take it or leave it type of thing – they’re too pungent for that. In Dordogne, everyone loves them, they’re one of the region’s prized treasures… What are truffles? Truffles are a form of mushroom, an edible fungus that some […]

Continue Reading

Sarlat Truffle Festival

Sarlat Truffle Festival

Written by on January 2, 2019 in Aquitaine, Gastronomy

Every January a special event takes place in Sarlat, Dordogne – the famous truffle festival. The aromatic fungi take centre stage in this lovely, medieval town. Fabulous fungi If you’re a fan of these little smelly fungi, then you’ll love Dordogne in the winter. There are plenty of the “black diamonds” on offer at the […]

Continue Reading

What to see and do in Amboise, Loire Valley

Amboise has wow factor by the bucket load. It’s not just the fact that there is a magnificent castle with centuries of history witnessed within it’s walls. It’s not just that the extraordinary Leonardo da Vinci lived his last years here. Or that his home is still there and he is buried in a chapel […]

Continue Reading


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.