Everyone is looking for something different from their chateaux visits but for me this was by far my favourite trip in Dordogne...intriguing history (of a more recent variety), stunning gardens, a bird of prey show and great tea-room!
Chateau des Milandes is one of the few chateaux that offer an audio tour of both the building and the grounds, and due to the rather different and interesting history of the chateau, its former owner, the town and the newly designed gardens I would certainly recommend spending the extra €3 for this service.
Visiting in September I found the car park rather quiet and no queue at the ticket office, but with the flowers of the garden still in bloom this was a definitely a good time to visit. I started the tour as instructed by my audio guide in the upper gardens and quickly moved on to the chateau itself. Sadly you aren't allowed to take pictures inside the chateau so you'll just have to try and imagine the sumptuous furniture and outfits that once belonged to the former owner...or visit yourself to find out!
The audio guide tells you all about the life of Josephine Baker - an African-American singer and entertainer, whose career flourished in her adoptive country of France. In her early career she was also renowned as a dancer, and was among the most celebrated performers to headline in the lavish revues of the Folies Bergère in Paris. Having rented this chateau for several years she eventually bought it and began creating her own 'World Village'. This was the first form of tourism to be seen in the area with a swimming pool, mini golf, a dance hall and gardens of the chateau. A tiny village of sorts (post office, shop, farm etc) sprung up around the chateau that is still in existence today.
This trip back in time not only takes us through the dance hall and jazz era of the 1920s & 30s but also back to the 2nd World War where Josephine worked for the French resistance. The rooms are set up much as they would've been when she lived there with her 12 adopted children - often referred to as 'The rainbow Tribe' as they came fro all different cultures and nationalities.
Once your tour of the building is complete the audio guide leads you out into the garden to learn more about the unusual design that has been recently commissioned but once again reflects the chateau as it once was and pays homage to the original ideas and creator. Winding you way past box hedges and rose bushes you can find some respite from the strong sun in the forest and there are a few benches where you can sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of this pretty estate.
Your tour of the garden finishes as you come to the cages that house the birds of prey. An impressive collection that forms the raptor show that takes place at certain times throughout the day. If you have arrived early then it is worth waiting for this show as it is spectacular and you might even get the chance to have one of the birds land on your arm.
I finished up my trip to the castle with a coffee and cake at the restaurant. The old winery has been converted into a brasserie that can seat over 100 people for lunch. The menu is full of Perigord favourites, such as foie gras and duck pate, but I opted for the traditional 'cafe gourmand' - a coffee and a selection of mini cakes. Not a bad way to round off the tour!
Entry to the Chateau des Milandes is 11€ I think you get quite a lot for your money here. I would highly recommend the audio guide to make the most of your trip and the extra few euros is worth it. Acces is fairly easy as there are plenty of signs directing you from the nearby town of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, and the car park has plenty of space (this could change during high season). Disabled parking is provided.
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