Chateau des Milandes, Dordogne

Written by on January 8, 2019 in 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.

Details: milandes.com; sarlat-tourism.com

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

History of the Louvre Museum, Paris

The Louvre is the world’s most famous and largest fine arts museum. It’s home to the one of the most impressive art collections in history. It’s also the most visited museum of the world with a stonking 10 million visitors a year – but it wasn’t always this way. Once it was only for royalty […]

Continue Reading

Guide to the Chateau de Chantilly

Though France has plenty of Chateaux that impress, wow and take your breath away – some are more special than others. The Chateau de Chantilly in Picardy, a short journey from the centre of Paris, is one of them… Potted history of the Chateau of Chantilly Castles have stood for many centuries on the site […]

Continue Reading

The best museums in Dijon Burgundy

Dijon, capital of Burgundy, is a city of culture, history and exquisite architecture, a living museum in itself. There are so many cultural venues to visit, it’s hard to know where to begin. Surrounded by vineyards and stunning countryside, it really is an absolute jewel of a French city. Plus there are fabulous restaurants and wine […]

Continue Reading

Top Museums in Strasbourg

Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, has a dozen museums. Many of them are in historic buildings like the Museum of History which is in a 16th century former slaughterhouse and a voodoo museum (yes you did read that right), in a water tower! There’s a varied range of exhibitions from antiquity to contemporary – something […]

Continue Reading

Visit to the Chateau de Versailles

When Louis XIV was pondering over how to create the most magnificent palace the world had ever seen, one that truly showed off his glory and absolute power, he can’t have had any idea just how many people would tread in his footsteps and gaze in wonder at his legacy. The Chateau de Versailles is […]

Continue Reading

Subscribe

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

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.

Top