Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, France: Josephine Baker's legacy, under a Dordogne roof
A turreted 15th-century château, flanked by hundred-year-old magnolia trees, has one of the best views of the rolling hills and tiled-roof villages of the Dordogne Valley. It's a view you don't see much in St. Louis, where Josephine Baker slept on the streets as a child—perhaps that's one of the reasons the music-hall star splurged to buy the manse in 1947.
Les Milandes was built in 1489 when Claude de Cardaillac asked her husband, the Lord of Castelnaud, to build her something a little less stuffy than the family chateau. The result: A structure that, true to her wishes, feels (at least on the inside) like a very grand home, with beamed ceilings, mullioned windows and stained-glass panels, and fireplaces you could park a deux chevaux in.
Just over four and a half centuries later, Baker—who'd decamped the still racially-segregated U.S. for more progressive shores, and risen to become the toast of Paris nightlife—acquired and renovated the property. (Not surprisingly, some of the bathrooms are done up in an Art Déco style.)
The performer's prodigious talents didn't include book-balancing; she blew through her cash so fast and furiously that the château was repossessed in the 1960s. One of the hundreds of Baker artifacts on display at les Milandes—including the banana skirt she wore at the Folies Bergère in 1927 and beaded gowns that would make Bob Mackie weep, not to mention medals she was awarded for her other life, as a French spy and a member of the Résistance—is the last photograph taken of her on the property, sitting on the front steps, surrounded by her few remaining possessions.
The manse itself is a stunning take-in, but don't miss the falcons, who perform in the Birds of Prey show on the lawn.