by Jean Pierre Desailly
At no other chateau in all of France could you find a former Soviet helicopter parked on the back lawn. The same could be said for a 1970s hovercraft… and a record-breaking collection of fighter jets, for that matter. And then there is the warehouse full of vintage firetrucks, some two hundred antique motorcycles, thirty six racing cars – the list goes on – all sitting comfortably in retirement amongst the vineyards of Burgundy.
Certified by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest in the world, this private collection of fighter jets brings together aircraft from across the ages on roughly eight acres within the castle’s grounds. From a Dassault Ouragan to an Étendard IV, and from the Mirage IV to the F-100 Super Sabre, there are around a hundred aircraft in total, from all over the world (France, Russia, England, the United States, etc.) – there are over 2,000 model aircraft too!
Michel Pont started collecting in the 1980s. He was a former Abarth racing driver who had inherited a 14th-century chateau situated on nearly 70 acres of land. The eccentric 87-year-old, whose unassuming and casual appearance could easily have him mistaken for the chateau’s gardener, is the world’s biggest private collector of fighter planes according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Among his hundred-odd aircraft parked in the shadows of Chateau Sevigny-lès-Beaune, one of them was once armed with atomic bombs during General Charles de Gaulle’s presidency, while another hanging from the ceiling in the barn is one of the earliest aeroplanes ever built.
The artifacts have arrived from all over the world. Michel helped dismantle one of the aircraft himself on a desert runway in Djibouti to see it safely shipped back to his castle, where it underwent a full restoration. A large number of the aircraft came from boneyards in Belgium and Poland. These days, it is actually not that difficult to purchase an ex-Soviet military aircraft, or even a Boeing 747, over the internet in much the same way that you might acquire a used car – or a new one for that matter.
“When you have a head for collecting, you find a way,” Michel notes. He credits his parents for the inspiration to become passionate about heritage and preservation. His “crazy collection” as locals often refer to it, has allowed him to open not just one museum at the chateau, but nine separate museums, each dedicated to a different type of machinery.
Preferring to share his medieval castle with the public rather than live in gilded isolation, Michel’s collection helps keep the 14th-century chateau alive, and helps fund its maintenance too. The chateau itself is a great place to visit, even if you’re not into antique fighter planes or vintage vehicles. The castle often hosts special events and weddings – it is also home to a pretty swanky restaurant too. You can explore the magnificent castle’s interior, which still holds classic remnants of French medieval architecture. And don’t forget to stroll around the lush greenery in the gardens which surround the chateau.
For 12 euros a ticket, visitors are welcome to roam the grounds, which are open year round – and there’s even a restaurant inside the chateau for private dining. They also make wine at the chateau too, aged in the 14th-century cellars beneath the castle. For more information, please visit www.chateau-savigny.com