Friday Fun: Josephine Baker and Her Rainbow Tribe

Something a little bit different for this Friday Fun post. Josephine Baker achieved her greatest success outside her country of birth, the United States. She moved to Paris when she was still very young, and it was there that she became idolised as the Black Venus of cabaret performance in the 1920s and 30s. She was also active in the French Resistance during the war and in the civil rights movement in the US in the 1950s and 60s. Part of her activism was her well-intentioned but rather misguided ambition to raise a Rainbow Tribe. Unable to have any children of her own, she adopted a total of 12 children of different ethnicities to prove they could grow up together in harmony. She also deliberately raised them with different religions. At her magnificent estate in the Dordogne Chateau de Milandes she created something of a theme park, including a hotel, a farm, rides, and the children singing and dancing for visitors, included in the price of admission.  That sounds to me horrendously like a zoo, and she certainly was not beyond typecasting the children to ‘represent’ their ethnic group, but she no doubt meant well. She later had to sell the chateau as she got into massive debt, and was taken in by her friend Grace Kelly, by then Princess of Monaco. The chateau is now open once more to visitors.

The rainbow tribe in the mid 1950s.
Chateau de Milandes in the present-day, from its own website.
Josephine Baker with her fourth husband and her children. From YouTube.
The front aspect of Chateau de Milandes, a genuine 15th century French chateau in the Dordogne.
Josephine at the chateau with the children in the 1960s.
The dining room at Chateau des Milandes. From TripAdvisor
Finally, another of Josephine Baker’s houses, in Le Vesinet, Paris, bought when she first achieved fame in the 1920s. The house is privately owned and not available for visiting, but this is where Josephine walked her pet cheetah.

Friday Fun: Back to France

Who am I kidding? English country mansions are all very nice, but my heart beats faster when I see a French chateau – or even a ‘humble’ maison de maitre. And, who knows, maybe in the region Bourgogne -Franche-Comte, it might even be affordable? My ‘retirement’ plans are to acquire one of these and organise writing, reading and thinking retreats. Any takers?

Gracious stone pile in Besancon, from immobilierfranche-comte.fr
Modest little house from Mitula Immobilier.
This one is slightly more expensive, but has extensive grounds and outhouses. From clairefontaineimmobilier.fr
My kind of farmhouse building in the Jura, from regions-of-france.com
House in Bourgogne, close to the vineyards, from my-french-house.com
The real dream, this 13th century renovated chateau in Oyonnax, only 9 minutes from Geneva by helicopter! From Cortebil.fr

Friday Fun: Return to the Small Chateaux

This week, a group of women writers whom I am honoured to call friends, L’Atelier Writers, are having their annual retreat in a French chateau. I joined them one year and it was magical. You bet that I am extremely envious. So I’ve found some additional chateaux to make them envious too!

Yes, a majority of them are French, but I am including a few from other countries as well. This time round, small and compact are the keywords. Well, for chateau standards at least.

Alone in Copenhagen, from Pinterest.
The comforting standard French shutters, from Architectural Digest.
The House on the Lake, in Brussels, photo credit Quentin de Briey.
Less of a chateau, more of a manor house in Gascogne (land of D’Artagnan), from Architectural Digest.
Hidden amongst flowering trees, French chateau from Thingsthatinspire.net
Solar de Alvega in Portugal, from manorhouses.com
In England we call them manor houses, but they are still chateaux to me, like this one for sale in Woodstock, from Country Life.

Friday Fun: Beautiful Misc

I love the word ‘miscellaneous’ and I love what it represents, so here is a beautiful mix of interior design elements that I hope will inspire you as much as they did me!

Impeccably organised living room, for music and book lovers. From Tumblr.
Chateau Dazaye-Rideau on the Loire Valley, from Jarrod Castaing.
Abandoned villa in Thessaloniki, Greece, from V Light Photography
Pure escapism on Laucala Island Resort, from deluxe-escapes.com
Missed opportunity to turn that window seat into a reading nook and far too much space on the shelves, but yes, a nice home library. From Rose Pingouin.
And, to end on a squeee note, a spotted piglet. From AnimalRights.com

Friday Fun: Hunting Pavilions

I don’t approve of hunting, but I could easily find another purpose in life for these charming pavillons de chasses (hunting pavilions). The Book Club Pavilion maybe?

The unusually shaped pavilion in the Forêt de Dreux. From Wikimedia.

A breakfast pavilion for those hazy summer days in Kassel – maybe to read Enrique Vila-Matas? From KasselMarketing.de

More of a gatehouse than a hunting lodge at Brockenhurst, although I expect they might still do the odd spot of hunting around here.

Sadly neglected, this charming little outhouse of Chateau Blossac. From mymajorcompany.com/sauver-blossac fundraising page.

The oversized luxury, now a tourist centre from Chassons.

Another renovation project in St Germain-en-Laye, Pavillon de la Muette, from LeParisien.fr

Another crumbling French beauty from Pinterest.

More of an orangery than a hunting pavilion, in Plas Brondanw in Wales, from contentinacottage.blogspot.uk

Last but not least, one of the most famous of them all, the Pavillon de Galon in Luberon, France. Renowned not so much for its architecture, as for its gardens. From Regions de France.

 

Friday Fun: Chateau Location Scouting

Some grand old manor houses look good by day or night, and here are some which would make a great backdrop for a film or a book. Any additional suggestions of appropriate films or books would be much appreciated.

Chateau owned by Catherine Deneuve, from Le Matin.
Chateau owned by Catherine Deneuve, from Le Matin. Suitable for Netherfield Park in French version of Pride and Prejudice?

Another beauty near Poitiers, from Le Figaro property section.
Another beauty near Poitiers, from Le Figaro property section. Cyrano de Bergerac might be hiding in one of those bushes.

Chateau near Rouen, from
Chateau near Rouen, from Selectimmovexin.com. I could see the Three Musketeers hiding here and bewitching the lady of the house on their way to new adventures.

Chateau d'Artigny. Wouldn't this be a great location for Gatsby's famous parties? in the Loire valley, from winerist.com
Chateau d’Artigny. Wouldn’t this be a great location for Gatsby’s famous parties? in the Loire valley, from winerist.com

Chateau in Provence, perfect for a Russian aristocrat forced into exile with all of the family jewels. From Maisonsavendre.fr
Chateau in Provence, perfect for a Russian aristocrat forced into exile with all of the family jewels. From Maisonsavendre.fr

If Tintin ever does decide to get married at Captain Haddock's chateau, this Chateau Buffemont would be it. From French Wedding Style.
If Tintin ever does decide to get married at Captain Haddock’s chateau, this Chateau Buffemont would be it. From French Wedding Style.

Finally, for thirsty pirates landing in the Bordeaux region, the cellars of Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron might prove irresistable. From Wikimedia.com
Finally, for thirsty pirates landing in the Bordeaux region, the cellars of Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron might prove irresistible. From Wikimedia.com

 

Friday Fun: It’s Those Chateaux Again!

Yes, I know I said there were some beautiful palaces all over Europe (and I haven’t even gone to other continents – that’s a thought for future posts!). But I still dream of that perfect little chateau somewhere in France… Perhaps because there are so many of them to choose from, something for every taste.

Chateau in Bergerac, of modest proportions. From Angloinfo Property website.
Chateau in Bergerac, of modest proportions. From Angloinfo Property website.

I can never resist a beautiful staircase, such as in this chateau in Aveyron.
I can never resist a beautiful staircase, such as in this chateau in Aveyron.

Another chateau in the same area, this one for doer-uppers, from excellentissimmo.com
Another chateau in the same area, this one for doer-uppers, from excellentissimmo.com

In the heart of Cognac country, from groupemercure.fr
In the heart of Cognac country, from groupemercure.fr

Another one ripe for renovation, Chateau de la Rochette, from Chateaux en France website.
Another one ripe for renovation, Chateau de la Rochette, from Chateaux en France website.

This one in Normandy seems to have an endless variety of wings, from Vitruve Associes website.
This one in Normandy reminds me of Windsor Castle, from Vitruve Associes website.

Nothing like a large conservatory for reading, like in this chateau near Tours, from masterhomes.net
Nothing like a large conservatory for reading, like in this chateau near Tours, from masterhomes.net

 

Friday Fun: Not Only Chateau in France

There are other countries that have beautiful chateaux, you know, even though they may call them Schloss, vár, palat, hrad and so on. Here are a few lesser-known favourites, some of which may even be for sale.

Austrian Schloss in Kärnten for sale, from immowelt.at
Austrian Schloss in Kärnten for sale, from immowelt.at

Or this Baroque splendour in Bavaria, from Schlossburgverkauf.de
Or you might prefer to fork out for this Baroque splendour in Bavaria, from Schlossburgverkauf.de

This Schloss near Dresden has been largely renovated already. Ready to move into! From schlossburgverkauf.de
This Schloss near Dresden has been largely renovated already. Ready to move into! From schlossburgverkauf.de

This Hungarian property is a bit of a doer-upper - you can really put your mark on it! From casa-mia.at
This Hungarian property is a bit of a doer-upper – you can really put your mark on it! From casa-mia.at

This beauty in Slovakia is not for sale - perhaps because it is rumoured to have ghosts? From allwomenstalk.com
This beauty in Slovakia is not for sale – perhaps because it is rumoured to have ghosts? From allwomenstalk.com

You may want to go further back in history and get a medieval Tuscan tower in Pienza, from romoliniimobiliare.com
You may want to go further back in history and get a medieval Tuscan tower in Pienza, from romoliniimobiliare.com

Although, if you like towers, this Thuringian castle is also worth considering. From Schlossburgverkauf.de
Although, if you like towers, this Thuringian castle is also worth considering. From Schlossburgverkauf.de

Palatul Mogosoaia- a more modest affair just outside Bucharest - you can only have your wedding here, not buy it. From zambetsisanatate.ro
Palatul Mogosoaia- a more modest affair just outside Bucharest – you can only have your wedding here, not buy it. From zambetsisanatate.ro

Pakatul Cotroceni is the White House I prefer - official residence of the Romanian president, formerly a royal palace (and a monastery before that). From presidency.ro
Pakatul Cotroceni is the White House I prefer – official residence of the Romanian president, formerly a royal palace (and a monastery before that). From presidency.ro

Voltaire and His Creation, Ferney

Why would a world-famous writer and philosopher at the height of his creative powers choose to bury himself in a tiny hamlet of no more than 150 inhabitants in the middle of nowhere? Voltaire was a sociable being, certainly not someone to chase solitude, but what he did crave was freedom: to think and write what he pleased. And Ferney’s very isolation and distance from Paris were what made the location attractive to him.

Or perhaps it was the view from the terrace?
Or perhaps it was the view from the terrace?

After a stint in Prussia, Voltaire was aching to return to Paris, but Louis XV was not keen to have the writer back, agitating spirits. So in 1754 Voltaire started searching for a town with a thriving printing industry (he knew he couldn’t stop himself from writing). He was told that in Lyon he would be persona non grata (conservative archbishop etc.), so he settled initially in Geneva, a traditional place of refuge for Protestant French.

You can see he was a born troublemaker: on the church he built for his villagers, he not only clearly states that it was Voltaire who built it for God, but his own name is in bigger letters than God's.
You can see he was a born troublemaker: on the church he built for his villagers, he not only clearly states that it was Voltaire who built it for God, but his own name is in bigger letters than God’s.

However, the Calvinist spirit of that town soon quashed his enthusiasm, so after just three years he escaped outside the city limits, to a domaine which had previously been disputed between Savoy and the Swiss: Fernex. So many place names in the area end in ‘x’ – Gex, Ornex, Echenevex, Founex, but the final letter is not pronounced, so one of the first things Voltaire did was change the spelling of the place-name to correspond phonetically.

The chateau is currently under (some much needed) renovation.
The chateau is currently under (some much-needed) renovation.

Of course, Voltaire was already 64 when he moved to Ferney, so one might well have expected him to live in peaceable retirement, but he was not the kind to put on his slippers and smoke his pipe and just receive a couple of visitors with whom to reminisce about past glories. His energy was astounding, although even he could not have expected to live for another 20 years here.

Always thinking ahead, he even built his own grave, in a pyramid shape outside the church - neither in nor out, as he called it.
Always thinking ahead, he even built his own grave, in a pyramid shape outside the church – neither in nor out, as he called it.

By the time of his death, he had drained the marshes around the hamlet, created a flourishing town of more than 1200 inhabitants, predominantly Huguenot watchmakers and artisans who had fled the persecutions in Paris. He built a church, a school, a water reservoir, a theatre, many streets and houses, lent money for the artisans to set up their businesses (with an interest rate ten times lower than the usual ones), introduced a breed of sheep and cattle (their descendants still roam the fields around the chateau today) and new methods of farming, even tried to set up a silkworm farm.

Just beyong the flower show, you can see the fish pool he installed on the grounds.
Just beyond the flower show, you can see the carp pool he installed on the grounds.

Every year, he spent between 70 to 85% of his income on Ferney itself, and his niece Mme Denis claimed that the town ruined Voltaire. But he never regretted it.

Voltaire built a small theatre on his grounds, like this orangery which still stands today, but he soon had to move it into the village itself, as there were too many people coming to watch his plays.
Voltaire built a small theatre on his grounds, like this orangery which still stands today, but he soon had to move it into the village itself, as there were too many people coming to watch his plays. The carriages coming from Geneva caused the first traffic jams in the area!

After his death, unfortunately, things went belly up. Mme Denis couldn’t wait to leave the countryside and rush back to Paris, and in just 4 months she had sold the chateau, the library (to Catherine II of Russia) and the manuscript collection, as well as all precious objects. The chateau was bought and sold on in quick succession, most of its period detail was lost in the process, while bits and pieces of Voltaire’s heritage were sold or demolished. People began to abandon the village; the watch and jewellery makers moved back to Geneva.

In the late 19th century the village became a tourist attraction once more because of Voltaire, and this building once housed a hotel.
In the late 19th century the village became a tourist attraction once more because of Voltaire, and this building once housed a hotel.

It took over 100 years to reach the population levels of Voltaire’s time and 200 years to reach those prosperity levels once more. So it’s not surprising that the townspeople have always felt gratitude towards their benefactor and wanted to add his name to that of his village. They first did so in 1780, two years after Voltaire’s death, but in 1815 it reverted back to the old name. Napoleon could be very autocratic, when he wanted! Finally, with the celebration of the centenary of Voltaire’s death, in 1878 the village was allowed to change its name officially to ‘Ferney-Voltaire’.

Just down the main driveway of the chateau stood the house of Voltaire's great friend, the polyglot traveller and seaman ('cher corsaire') Henri Rieu, who translated, copied and lent books to Voltaire. It's now the Catholic school St. Vincent.
Just down the main driveway of the chateau stood the house of Voltaire’s great friend, the polyglot traveller and seaman (‘cher corsaire’) Henri Rieu, who translated, copied and lent books to Voltaire. It’s now the Catholic school St. Vincent (Voltaire must be turning in his grave).

Another grand old lady with Tsarist connections lived down the same driveway.
Another grand old lady with Tsarist connections lived in secluded surroundings on the same driveway.

And this is the house I would love to renovate and live in, also on that driveway, on the corner. It was once the village pub and cabaret, later on it became the workshop of the sculptor Lambert, who bought the chateau and bequeathed a statue of Voltaire to the village.
This is the house I would love to renovate and live in, at the bottom of the same driveway, on the corner. It was once the village pub and cabaret; later on it became the workshop of the sculptor Lambert, who lived in the chateau and bequeathed a statue of Voltaire to the village.

Voltaire was generous and liked to build houses for his friends, so they could all live close to him. This building is now the Protestant temple and vicarage, but on its ground he originally built the Palais Dauphin for his friend Mme de St Julien, but the building collapsed due to a faulty design before she could move in. Opposite it was the best and most epensive residence in Ferney (after the chateu) - Le Bijou, which Voltaire built for his nephew, the fabulist Florian.
Voltaire was generous and liked to build houses for his friends, so they could all live close to him. This building is now the Protestant temple and vicarage, but on its ground he originally built the Palais Dauphin for his friend Mme de St Julien. The building collapsed due to a faulty design before she could move in. Opposite it was the best and most expensive residence in Ferney (after the chateau) – Le Bijou, which Voltaire built for his nephew, the fabulist Florian.

I can't help but think that Voltaire would have loved all the bustle of festivals, music and colour in his old domaine.
I can’t help but think that Voltaire would have loved all the bustle of festivals, music and colour in his old domaine.

 

 

Friday Fun: Surely Not Weary of Chateau Already?

The last one in my series of aspirational chateau, I promise. At least, for a little while. Normal bookshelf-and-desk service will resume shortly. But first, here are some Swiss chateau which make me dream. Most of them have been converted to hotels or restaurants and can be rented out for weddings.

Chateau Eclepens, from mosquitos.ch
Chateau Eclepens, from mosquitos.ch

Chateau de Bon Mont, from swissshistorichotels.ch
Chateau de Bon Mont, from swissshistorichotels.ch

Chateau de Bossey, from nyon-region.ch
Chateau de Bossey, from nyon-region.ch

Chateau de la Corbiere, from 24heures.ch
Chateau de la Corbiere, from 24heures.ch

Chateau de Vidy, home of the Olympic Committee, from olympic.org
Chateau de Vidy, home of the Olympic Committee, from olympic.org

Chateau Gingins, for sale, from sothebys-realty.com
Chateau Gingins, for sale, from sothebys-realty.com

Chateau de Hauteville, from 24heures.ch
Chateau de Hauteville, from 24heures.ch