Château des Milandes
There are 3 reasons to visit the Château des Milandes: firstly it’s a beautiful château with stunning gardens; secondly because you can see a flying show of birds of prey; and thirdly because it was the home of an extraordinary woman, Joséphine Baker. The castle is about 40 minutes drive from Le Mas & Le Mazet.
In 2021, several decades after her death, Joséphine Baker was interred in the Pantheon in Paris. This is the highest honour that France can bestow on it’s citizens, especially as she’s the first black woman and the first entertainer to be interred. She’s actually buried in Monaco, but a coffin with soil from the four places she lived in her life were placed in the Pantheon.
When you tour the château, there is a brilliant audio guide to tell you about the history of the place and about Joséphine’s life there. There is a bistro (you’ll need to reserve in the summer) or take a picnic to eat in the gardens. Make sure you check what times the bird of prey shows are on, as you won’t want to miss them.
So who was Joséphine Baker? She was born into extreme poverty in Saint Louis, Missouri in 1906, and left school at 13. After two failed marriages, she landed herself a place in one of the first all-Black musicals on Broadway in 1921.
Like many Black American artists at the time, she moved to France, which was seen as more tolerant towards minorities. She was nicknamed the “Black Venus” and took Paris by storm with her exuberant dance performances, which captured the energy of the Jazz Age.
At the outbreak of World War II, Joséphine joined the Resistance against Nazi Germany, becoming a lieutenant in the French air force’s female auxiliary corps. She also became a spy for France’s wartime leader-in-exile General Charles de Gaulle, obtaining information on Italian leader Benito Mussolini and sending reports to London hidden in her music sheets in invisible ink.
“France made me who I am,” she said later. “Parisians gave me everything … I am prepared to give them my life.”
She also waged a fight against discrimination, adopting 12 children from different ethnic backgrounds to form a “rainbow” family at the Château des Milandes.