Chateau des Milandes - Home of Josephine Baker
Chateau des Milandes – Home of Josephine Baker
On becoming the owners of Le Manoir des Milandes, we were unprepared for the fame and significance of Josephine Baker but not for long!
Locally, she is considered a goddess and nationally and internationally she has an incredible following. She made her home at the Chateau des Milandes where she raised her “Rainbow Tribe” and the Chateau is now a testament to her, vibrantly bringing her to life through a procession of beautiful costumes and exhibits, art deco bathrooms, pictures and a chronological tour of her life.
Born in St Louis, Missouri in 1906, she first shot to fame on her arrival in Paris in 1925 on the stage of La Theatre du Champs Elysees in “la Revue Negre”. In 1926, she became an overnight sensation in “la Danse Sauvage” wearing only her “banana skirt”.
During the war, she not only performed for troops but also helped the resistance movement for which she was awarded the Legion d’Honeur. She continued to fight against racism in America and was not actually accepted in the US until 1973 when she performed in New York at the Carnegie Hall.
Josephine Baker buys Chateau des Milandes
She married four times despite receiving over a thousand marriage proposals (President Hollande was too young!) Her fourth husband, who she married in 1947 was Jo Bouillon who had his own orchestra and together they bought the Chateau des Milandes. They divorced in 1961 but during their time together they adopted twelve children forming a family that she referred to as “The Rainbow Tribe” and who lived happily at Les Milandes proving that “children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers.”
Unfortunately, she did tend to overspend and went through a difficult time as a result. Jo left her and she finally had to leave Milandes taking refuge with Princess Grace of Monaco before returning for a grand finale at the Bobino in Paris in 1975 to the best reviews of her life and attended by Princess Grace, Sophia Loren, Lisa Minelli, Shirly Bassey, Diana Ross and Sir Mick Jagger! Days later, she slipped into a coma and died shortly after. Twenty thousand people lined the streets of Paris for her funeral and she was honoured with a twenty one gun salute, the first American woman buried in France with military honours.
During her time at Milandes, she owned much of the village. The Chartreuse below the Manoir was a hotel, the old village square that is now our courtyard featured a restaurant and you can still see her and Jo’s initials in the paving outside. She built the Parc des Milandes at the bottom of the hill as a pleasure parc with an enormous pool and restaurant au bord de la riviere where she used to entertain
Nowadays, Les Milandes is still a blissful place with the Chateau sitting majestically just above us. The Parc is still open but now has its own restaurant and bar where you can sit and enjoy a glass of wine and watch the river meander by. The Chateau is well worth a visit, mainly for her but also has falconry displays and its own restaurant.
The courtyard of our house, Le Manoir, is the old village square. The former restaurant is now our party and games room, and the old town hall – L’Ancienne Mairie – is now a three bedroom house available to let and has stunning views up to the Chateau, down to the Parc and across the valley.