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Château des Milandes, Josephine Baker's Memorial (and dress collection!)

Monday, September 22, 2014

If you don't know who Josephine Baker is before you enter Château des Milandes, you will have her image ingrained in your head afterward. The 15th century château located in Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, is a grand memorial to the famous African-American entertainer of the 1920's. Don't expect antique Renaissance décor everywhere, expect a drag queen's dream come true.

There is little to no history left in the château, aside from middle-aged architectural finds. After it was abandoned by the Lords of Caumont in the Revolution, Charles Claverie came along and added all the pretty touches like the disturbing, screaming gargoyles. He then sold it to Josephine Baker in 1947 after she decided to become a French citizen. Americans were too racist for colored entertainers, especially colored WOMEN entertainers. Ha! If they could only see Beyoncé now--"Who run the world? GIRLS."
The first (and greatest) thing you see when you step foot in the castle is all of her show outfits. I was like a kid in a candy shop. The girl had a rockin' body; she was the first to prance around topless and sing like an angel. It is to no surprise that the Frenchmen accepted the American star. 
As you continue on the tour you will see an overwhelming amount of Josephine Baker photos. She was truly the 'it' girl. Unfortunately, she went bankrupt and lost the castle in the 1960's and much of her belongings were auctioned off. Therefore, none of the château is entirely authentic, being that there have been four previous owners since.
There is, however, much of her beautiful furniture, as well as her not-so-beautiful bathroom layout. She had refinished the inside from its previous renaissance look. I, have never in my life seen such modernity in a castle; it was a nice change of pace.
Many toys of her twelve, yes TWELVE adopted children are on display. Her love for both children and animals can be seen in photos all over the home. This was no museum-like château; it is lived-in. Château des Milandes was practically Disney's Animal Kingdom minus the $100 wristbands to get in. 
The outside is surrounded by beautiful gardens. There are several acres of land to the property and it is included in the ticket. You will also find a very large collection of "exotic" birds. Now if you are from North America you most likely won't find them overly exotic. And if you are not a bird lover, you most likely won't find it interesting whatsoever.
Legend has it that when she was fighting to keep her home, she set-up shop at the front doorstep. One photo showed her surrounded by a few wine bottles. Josephine Baker, you've got the right idea girl! The owners allowed her to only stay in the kitchen, her favorite room of the house.
My favorite room was the military den. I give these owners credit, because they have dedicated this entire place to her life and success. She was an entertainer, entrepreneur, WWII French Military intelligence, Civil Rights activist, and mother of twelve. Although the sculptures are creepy, they're in good spirit.
If you have some time for a visit, see the exotic bird show, wander the gardens, and grab some food or drink at the restaurant. If you have good weather like we did, it is like being in a scene from a fairytale. The exterior, from the view to the architecture is incredible. It is also a good excuse for wine, and we love wine right?

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