At no other chateau in all of France will you find a Soviet helicopter parked on the back lawn. Or a 1970s hovercraft. Or a record-breaking collection of World War II fighter jets for that matter. Not to mention a warehouse full of vintage firetrucks, 200 antiques motorbikes, 36 racing cars – and the list goes on – all sitting comfortably in retirement amongst the vineyards of Burgundy.
Michel Pont started collecting in the 1980s. He was a former Abarth racing driver who had inherited a 14th century chateau amidst 27 hectares 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 World Book of Records. Among his hundred-odd airplanes parked in the shadows of the 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 airplanes ever made.
They’ve been brought here from all over the world. Michel has helped dismantle one himself on a desert runway in Djibouti to see it safely shipped back to his French castle, where it was rebuilt and fully restored. A large number of them came from WWII boneyards in Belgium and Poland. And as we’ve previously encountered, these days, it’s actually not that difficult to purchase Soviet military aircrafts, or even a Boeing 74 over the internet like you would a used car.
“When you have a head for collecting you find a way,” says Michel, who says it was his parents that inspired him to be 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 in his collection.
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 not to mention, well-maintained.
For 12 euros a ticket, visitors are welcome to roam the grounds year round – and there’s even a restaurant inside the chateau for privatising, perfect for car clubs and boys trips. And don’t forget they make wine too, aged in their 14th century cellars beneath the castle. More information about visiting here.