Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Le Moulin de la Tuilerie

 Weekend residence of the Windsors
Le Moulin de la Tuilerie is best known as the former weekend residence of Edward, Duke of Windsor, and his wife, formerly Wallis Simpson. Theirs was one of the great love stories of the 20th century: in 1936, Edward VIII renounced the British throne in order to marry Mrs Simpson, an American divorcée.

Under English law at the time, a divorcée could not become Queen, something Edward could not accept. After the war, the Windsors settled in France, where they were offered tax free status. Their main Paris residence was 4, Champ d’Entrainement in the Bois de Bologne, but in 1952 they bought this site in Gif-sur-Yvette to be a weekend retreat. It was the only house they ever owned together.

However, the site clearly has an earlier history. There is thought to have been a mill here since before 1500, although the current main building (Le Moulin) can be dated by its sundial above the main entrance to 1734. The motto on the sundial, Lex His Horis Una Tibi, means ‘The rule of this sundial (or timepiece) is the only one you need.’ Until renamed Le Moulin de la Tuilerie by the Duchess of Windsor, the mill was known as the Moulin Aubert after an earlier owner, although the mill probably owes its current form to one Jean Guillery, who revived it around 1734. Guillery practised a specialised form of milling to extract the maximum amount of flour from the bran from the first milling. There was a working mill on the site until 1908.

Sometime after this, the Moulin Aubert was bought by the artist and illustrator, Adrien Étienne, who became known as Drian. Drian is well known as an illustrator of women’s fashions in the 1920s and 30s but was also an accomplished painter. Drian used the house as a weekend retreat from Paris. In the 1930s, he met Edward, then Prince of Wales, and also painted a portrait of his then mistress, Wallis Simpson, so the Windsors were already acquainted with the painter when they took a year long lease of the site in 1951. The Duke especially loved the place so much that in 1952 they bought it from Drian and sold it only after the Duke’s death in 1972. The site was then owned successively by a Swiss business man and a Lebanese doctor.

The Windsors at Le Moulin de la Tuilerie

After buying the site in 1952, the Windsors spent two years renovating the main house and creating guest accommodation in the outbuildings (La Maison des Amis and La Célibataire). The Duchess renamed the site Le Moulin de la Tuilerie after the group of nearby houses and oversaw the internal works under the guidance of Stéphane Boudin, a well known interior designer. Only a few traces of their work survive today. Almost every weekend when they were resident in Paris, the couple would make the expedition out to Gif, he in a Chevrolet, she in a blue Cadillac, preceded by their staff in a Citroën to get everything ready. Joining them most weekends would be a glittering guest list of nobility and celebrities of the day.

La Célibataire and La Maison des Amis

The Duchess called all her guest accommodation les célibataires (or bachelor’s quarters). The ground floor bathroom in today’s Célibataire (the unit for two people) has its original 1950s half bath and taps. The paneling in La Maison des Amis is also from the Windsors’ day. Guests were always impressed by the Duchess’s thoughtfulness – from a favourite cocktail to china that matched the bedspreads when the maid brought breakfast in bed

Live like a king in France
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor's former bolthole, just outside Paris, is the first property in France offered by the Landmark Trust. And quick and easy to get to on Eurostar

Charlotte Higgins

Staying at La Célibataire is a great tease for those of a republican persuasion. The old mill house – and the surrounding cottages that together form Le Moulin de la Tuilerie – were, from 1952 till 1972, the weekend retreat of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. In those days it was half an hour's drive from their main house in the Bois de Boulogne.

And, while none of the duchess's hectic decorative schemes survives, the Landmark Trust – which specialises in caring for endangered historic buildings and letting them as holiday homes – has ensured that it is difficult to forget them. The faces of the former king and his spouse leer, in the form of blown-up framed photographs, from almost every wall of La Célibataire, the sweet little guest cottage in which the artist, photographer and wit Cecil Beaton is said to have stayed when he visited the couple.

When my boyfriend disappeared into the downstairs bathroom, there came an excitable cry of, "This is definitely Cecil Beaton's hip-bath!" But then there was silence, and a gloomy eventual exit. "There's even a picture of them above the lavatory," he said. "Must we be confronted with the worst excesses of Britain's constitutional arrangement from every wall? Perhaps we could drape a tea towel over them, or something."
Though the Landmark Trust cares for many historic houses in Britain – and indeed has an apartment to rent on the Spanish Steps in Rome – Le Moulin de la Tuilerie is the first property it has taken on in France. There are plans under way to restore, and let out, further buildings in Britanny and near La Rochelle (the latter property, ironically enough, is a 19th-century fort built as a defence against the British).

Le Moulin de la Tuilerie is on the edge of a little town called Gif-sur-Yvette. About 35km south-west of Paris, Gif lies towards the end of the RER commuter line into the capital, in the Chevreuse valley. Its other distinction, aside from the duke and duchess, is that the artist Fernand Léger lived here – he was still alive, residing in a handsome village house down the road, when the Windsors bought the Moulin from the chic French illustrator Drian. History does not relate what the elderly cubist painter thought of the exiled former Edward VIII and his wife.

Gif is neither quite suburbia nor quite deep countryside – commuter-belt Surrey comes to mind – though when we took a walk in the Bois d'Aigrefoin to the west of the mill a pair of deer leapt and darted in front of us, and at night we heard owls from our roomy bedroom in the eaves. The Moulin itself is a delight: a cluster of mostly 18th-century buildings, handsome without being grand, and not quite what you'd expect, given the duke and duchess's well-known taste for the high life, and the splendour of their Paris residence, which had previously been inhabited by Charles de Gaulle.

La Célibataire (or bachelor's quarters, though it sleeps two) is the smallest of the Landmark Trust's three holiday lets here: La Maison des Amis sleeps four and the main house, Le Moulin, sleeps 11. Behind the buildings, running down to the little river Mérantaise, is the skeleton of the garden that the great landscape designer Russell Page created with the duke. I say skeleton, for the chest-deep pool of blue delphiniums and pink stocks that the duke nurtured is long gone, though Page's layout remains, and it is a lovely spot.

This garden was the former king's passion, and he liked nothing better than getting on his tweeds and having a good dig, bullying his guests into helping him lay a stone woodland path, or screaming orders in German to his Alsatian gardeners. (He never got his French up to scratch, but the family mother tongue was in excellent nick.)
Opening on to the lawn is a great barn of a room, which we peered into. Now rather bare, it was once where the duke and duchess foregathered with all their weekend guests, and you couldn't move for dainty tables and chairs, coffee tables made out of regimental drums, and elaborate knick-knackery of every kind, the more vulgar the better. Photographs of the decor show that the pièce de résistance was a carpet, designed by the duchess herself, in a particularly virulent, migraine-inducing shade of swirling emerald.

"I wanted to have a fling with rich, bright colours," she told a newspaper of Le Moulin's décor. "Every house should have a theme: then the decoration becomes something like a musical composition; each room carries the theme but with variations of mood and pace." Whatever the theme was, it found its apogee in the carpet of the drawing room in the main house: vermilion with a thick tartan ribbon detail writhing across it like a python in its death throes. That duchess worked a Schiaparelli frock and an expensive jewel with aplomb, but she let herself down with the decoration of Le Moulin. (May I reassure you that the Landmark Trust has decorated it in unexceptionable sober taste – with the exception of those photographs.)

The fact that the town of Gif is perfectly ordinary has its advantages. We visited the Sunday morning market, between the mairie and the railway station. Tables groaned with delights of all kind, from oysters and John Dory to ceps and those gloriously evil-looking purplish fungi, trompettes de la mort. "It's the only market in France not full of braying English people," said my boyfriend. (Leaving aside us, of course.)

Those with a car might try undertaking some proper sightseeing in Chartres or Versailles. Without one, we debated walking the 25 minutes to the RER station on the other side of Gif and taking the train to the end of the line where, in the town of Chevreuse, there is a magnificent medieval castle, Château de la Madeleine. Instead we took it in the other direction, and 45 minutes after hopping on it were sauntering happily around the Luxembourg Gardens in central Paris. The RER also takes you direct to the Gare du Nord, so the trip is fantastically easy and quick by Eurostar: with a sharp but not punishing early-morning start we were back in London by 11.30am on Monday after our three-night weekend stay. The canny weekender might consider a Friday-morning train to Gare du Nord, stashing bags in left luggage and lunching in Paris, before taking the RER in the late afternoon out to Gif.

The Windsors also let themselves down badly when it came to putting the property on the market in the late 1960s. Pressed for cash, and eager to maximise the price, they proposed a scheme on the land for 537 dwellings, 560 parking spaces and a tennis club, and pulled every government string they could to see it accepted. Fortunately, the good mayor of Gif stood up against them (vive la république!) and the scheme never came to fruition. No thanks to them, the surrounding area remains green. Even Diana Mosley – who lived a couple of stops up the RER line in Orsay, in a gorgeous little Revolution-era building called Le Temple de la Gloire – thought this was poor form, which is saying something.

The Landmark Trust (whose patron is the Windsors' great-nephew, Prince Charles) is an infinitely more reliable guardian of this pretty plot than the duke and duchess.

• La Célibataire at Le Moulin de la Tuilerie (01628 825925, landmarktrust.org.uk) sleeps two people and costs from £381 for a three-night weekend (Friday-Monday). Eurostar (08432 186186, eurostar.com) fares from London St Pancras to Paris start at £69 return

Charlotte Higgins is the Guardian's chief arts writer
Overview of Le Moulin de la Tuilerie in Gif-sur-Yvette, near Paris, one time home to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor

In Wallis's footsteps: The holiday home by royal appointment
A safe haven for a scandalous couple, the French country home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor is about to open its doors to paying guests for the first time. John Lichfield takes a tour

The Moulin de la Tuilerie is a paradise of warm stones and wooded slopes: an image of France at its most profonde. The 18th-century mill beside a chattering stream is also a paradox wrapped in a contradiction. It is a rural Eden which stands 35km from the Eiffel Tower. It is a corner of deepest France which will be forever England.
For almost two decades, the Moulin was the retreat of Britain's king over the water and his forbidden American bride. Here, from 1952 to the late 1960s, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor – "David and Wallis" to their closest friends – entertained, casually or royally. Their house guests included, among others, Cecil Beaton, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlene Dietrich.

Here, the Windsors, the most photographed couple of their era, also liked to pretend that they were ordinary people. "David", the present Queen's uncle, gardened in muddy, baggy trousers and crumpled tweed jackets – as is every Englishman's right. Wallis played mummy to her surrogate family of pug dogs.

The former King Edward VIII (the only British monarch to abdicate in modern times) also had a more formal house in the Bois de Boulogne, which was let to him for a peppercorn rent by the city of Paris. The Moulin at Gif-sur-Yvette, a little to the south of Versailles, was the only house that the Windsors owned. Wallis once described it as "our only real home".

From July, the Moulin de la Tuilerie can be anyone's home – for a weekend or a week or a fortnight. The mill which was once the Windsors' pride and joy is to be the first cross-Channel venture of The Landmark Trust, the British charity which buys and restores historic buildings and lets them to weekenders and holidaymakers.

Landmark France, will, for the most part, be a partnership with the agency which protects the French coastline, the Conservatoire du Littoral. Plans are well advanced for Landmark – at the Conservatoire's invitation – to restore and let a series of abandoned, historic buildings along the French coast, starting with a sardinery on an island off Douarnenez in Brittany and a fort on an island off La Rochelle. These buildings should be ready by 2012.

However, Landmark's first cross-Channel excursion – to be formally announced today – is to be one of the charity's most spectacular sites. Holidaymakers will be able to take either the main mill house at Gif (which sleeps 12) or the two stone outbuildings converted by the Windsors (which sleep four or two).

Caroline Stanford, Landmark's historian and assistant director of Landmark France, said: "The Moulin triumphantly meets all our criteria for a Landmark site. It is a beautiful place in itself. The buildings have the simple, elegant charm of rural France – buildings with soul and purpose, made from local materials which blend perfectly into their surroundings.

"But the mill is also deeply entwined with one of the key moments in British 20th century history ... and not just British history. The Windsors were an important part of Paris society in the 1950s and 1960s. They also had a great influence on the style of the period. And because Wallis was American, they remain iconic figures in the US to this day."

King Edward VIII abdicated on 10 December 1936 after less than 11 months on the throne. The British, and Dominion, governments had made it clear that they would not accept Wallis Simpson, his twice-divorced, American, former mistress, as the Queen or even as the Royal Consort. Faced with a triangular choice between his throne, a constitutional crisis or "the woman I love", Edward VIII – always known to the Royal family as David – chose Wallis.

The couple spent the rest of their lives in exile from Britain, symbols of romance and style to some; wrong-headed, immature, irritating socialites to others. The Royal family always refused to acknowledge Wallis as an HRH. Edward's reputation never recovered from his playing footsie with Adolf Hitler, who cleverly offered Wallis full state honours to persuade the couple to visit in October 1937, soon after their marriage.

After the war, the Windsors accepted an invitation from the French government to settle, tax-free, in Paris. They bought the mill in 1952 from the French painter Etienne Drian to escape their grander but too-public house in the Bois de Boulogne. Most weekends, "David" and Wallis would drive the 30 minutes from Paris in his Daimler. The Duchess's luggage, pugs and two maids would follow in her light blue Cadillac station-wagon.

Externally, the buildings today remain almost unchanged since the Duke and Duchess's time: an island of rural charm in the green Chevreuse valley and national park at the edge of, but untouched by, the south western sprawl of the Parisian suburbs. The gardens straddling the stream still have the outline which was imposed – and sometimes personally hewn and dug – by the Duke. He spent much of his time at the mill "looking crumpled and happy", according to one guest. His beloved beds of showy flowers, which make the grounds look like an impressionist painting in contemporary photographs, have long since become lawns.

"It is a very tranquil place," the Duke once said, "where one can garden as one should in old clothes, with one's hands among familiar plants." The royal habit of describing oneself as "one" goes back at least two generations, it seems.

In her 1987 book, The Windsor Style, Suzy Menkes has a chapter on life at the Moulin. She says that the Duke employed five gardeners, two of them Spanish, two Alsatian and one French. "As the Duke's German is sort of better than his French, he likes to talk German with them," the Duchess is quoted as saying.

The graves of several generations of Windsor pug dogs – Trooper, Disraeli, Imp, Davy Crockett – can still be found among the trees and boulders of the hill that overlooks the house. This was known as "Cardiac Hill" to the Duke, who would force his overweight guests to climb to the crest.

At the end of the garden is a round stone hut, still divided into the original His and Hers changing rooms designed for the Duke and Duchess (blue stripes for him; red stripes for her).

Inside the main mill house, much of the original decoration was stripped out by the Lebanese millionaire who owned the house in the 1980s and 1990s. One amusing vestige remains.

The Duchess had a mural painted on the main wall of the upstairs reception room as a wry commentary on the poor treatment that she believed that she had received at the hands of the British establishment. The mural, as clear today as the day it was painted, shows a water mill wheel entwined with the words: "I'm not the miller's daughter but I've been through the mill."

To know how the rest of the interior looked in the 1950s and 1960s, you need to use your imagination or to consult the many pictures that were taken at the time. One large wall was occupied with a giant map of the world, marked with the Duke's 150,000 miles of Imperial journeys as Prince of Wales in the 1920s. Another carried a frame containing the regimental buttons of every British unit which fought in the trenches in the 1914-18 war – a war in which the young David had insisted on serving, briefly, in the front line. He was even mentioned in dispatches.

The interior décor was, judging by photographs, garish, verging on the dazzlingly ugly. "It was very bright with patterned carpets, lots of apricot, and really more Palm Beach than English or French," said Diana Mosley (nee Mitford), the wife of the British fascist leader, Sir Oswald, an unrepentant Nazi fellow-traveller and frequent visitor at Gif in the 1950s. The American interior decorator Billy Baldwin says in the Suzy Menkes book: "Most of the mill was awfully tacky but that's what Wallis had – tacky southern taste, much too overdone, much too elaborate and no real charm."

The upper northern wing of the house consists of the former, separate apartments of the Duke and Duchess (hers much grander than his). Although only the walls remain, it is easy to imagine the Duchess lolling in a tub in her stunning bathroom with picture window views of the countryside on three sides. The Duke had a tiny bedroom with upstairs bathroom, where, preferring to shower, he kept his books and papers in the bath.

The Landmark trust is in the process of restoring and refurnishing the mill's interior in comfortable appropriate style but will not (mercifully) attempt to recapture the interior Windsor look. The charity, founded in 1965, owns or manages 182 properties in the United Kingdom. It already has four " Landmarks" in Italy, which have connections with the British poets Shelley, Keats and Browning. In 2007, Landmark was approached by the Conservatoire du Littoral and asked to extend its work to France.

The Conservatoire was impressed by Landmark's work in Britain. It wanted an experienced partner to help to rescue scores of disaffected, but potentially stunning, buildings along the French coastline. The Landmark Trust's Director, Peter Pearce, told The Independent: "In many ways, we share the same values and aims as the Conservatoire. They have an obligation to preserve the beauty of the French coastline. We have experience, unique in the world, in identifying and restoring threatened buildings of historic value and giving them a new life by making them available for weekenders or holidaymakers. It seemed like a partnership made in heaven."

The Conservatoire will provide around 80 per cent of the funds for the restoration of French coastal buildings. The rest will come from sponsorship and appeals in France.

The French " Landmarks" will be let to both British and French holidaymakers and – it is hoped – inspire more cross-Channel visitors to stay in the charity's properties in the UK.

Work has now progressed to the point that Landmark has created a wholly French clone, Landmark France, which is non-profit-making like the UK parent. Two French coastal "Landmarks" are under development and should be ready for letting in the next couple of years. One will be based in old sardine fishery offices on an island off the Breton coast at Douarnanez, just south of Brest. There are plenty of British historical connections, as Caroline Stanford, Landmark's historian points out. Douarnenez was blockaded by the British fleet in Napoleonic times and was for centuries a base from which French privateers raided British shipping.

The second coastal "Landmark" in France will be the Ile Madame, an 18th- and 19th-century fortress off La Rochelle, built to protect France from ... guess who. A score of other French coastal " Landmarks" will follow.

The Windsors' mill – which falls outside the scope of the partnership with the Conservatoire du Littoral – became available just as Landmark France was taking shape. "It is, we hope, the perfect property to give a lift-off to the French venture," said Caroline Stanford. "We expect international interest and also an income to help fund development of our other French projects once it is ready to let from July."

There are three buildings on the site: the main mill sleeping 12, and the annexes Le Célibataire (The Bachelor Pad) sleeping two and La Maison des Amis (The Friends' House) sleeping four. They will be available separately or all together but each building must be let as a complete unit. Although details have not yet been finalised, Landmark says that holidaymakers or weekenders who take the whole of one, or more, of the three buildings on the site for at least three nights should expect to pay about £50 per day per head.

The Moulin de la Tuilerie had been empty and disused for four years when it was taken over by a British investment company in partnership with a Briton who had moved to France, Patrick Deedes.

"I was looking for a change of direction and wanted to restore a very special property in France," Mr Deedes, 50, told The Independent. "We looked at more than 80 places before we stumbled on this. It had been empty for four years and was in, well, quite a state but the basic buildings were still fine."

Last year, Mr Deedes and the investment company which owns the Moulin reached an agreement with Landmark to complete the restoration and manage the buildings from this summer.

Mr Deedes, his wife, Isabelle, a former model, and their two daughters, aged nine and five, live in the Moulin's gatehouse. Thereby hangs another tale, which links the mill to a second generation of forbidden royal romance.

Isabelle Deedes is the daughter of Group Captain Peter Townsend, the RAF officer and former equerry to King George VI who was refused permission to marry Princess Margaret in the 1950s because he was a divorcé. Group Captain Townsend later moved to France and fell in love with a Belgian woman – Isabelle's mother. He was a frequent visitor at the Moulin in the Windsors' time. They even named one of their pugs after him.

"This was pure coincidence," said Mr Deedes. "Isabelle was a little doubtful at first, because of the link with her father ... But we decided to take the plunge. We are very pleased that we did. It is very special place. Even without the history, it is a special place. The historical connections make it an extraordinary place." A corner of a foreign field which will remain forever ...

Strolling around the grounds where the Duke of Windsor once laboured, and gave orders to his Spanish gardeners in German, we spotted a small white object lying in a narrow watercourse. It turned out to be a ball belonging to the Deedes' daughters. It was marked with the red and white cross of St George and carried a single word: "England".

Official residence: The Windsors in Paris

The official home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor from 1950 was a 19th-century villa at 4, Rue du Champ d'Entraînement in the Bois de Boulogne, on the western outskirts of Paris. The house, belonging to the Paris town hall, was given to the Windsors at a nominal rent to encourage them to move to France.

They never liked the villa much. It was not theirs. It was too public. They felt, according to friends, like animals in a gilded zoo. Although they entertained, very formally, in the Paris house, they spent every weekend and every summer in their "only real home", Le Moulin de la Tuilerie.

When the Duchess died in 1986, 4, Rue du Champ d'Entraînement was leased for 50 years to Mohammed al Fayed, the owner of Harrods. In 1997, he irritated the Royal family, and the Paris Town Hall, by selling off its contents, including the remaining Windsor memorabilia, at auction.

On the morning before their fatal car crash in Paris in August 1997, Mr Al Fayed's son, Dodi, and Diana, Princess of Wales, visited the old Windsor villa in Paris. Mr Al Fayed has since suggested that, had they lived, they would have made it their home. The Princess's friends have disputed this.

One of the swimming pool changing rooms in Le Moulin de la Tuilerie in Gif-sur-Yvette, near Paris

Rural retreat: The Tuilerie garden where the Duke liked to potter around 'among familiar plants'

A refitted bathroom in Le Moulin de la Tuilerie in Gif-sur-Yvette

A mural painted by the Duchess of Windsor in Le Moulin de la Tuilerie in Gif-sur-Yvette

The house's abandoned swimming pool

The elegant official residence at 4, Rue du Champ d’Entraînement in the Bois de Boulogne

 Reliving a royal scandal at the French home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor

There’s something irresistible about the Landmark Trust’s first venture on Gallic soil. The lush gardens, the chatty brook, the horses lounging in the fields, the proximity to Paris.
But perhaps what really makes it irresistible is that this is the house that once belonged to the
Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the only house they ever owned together.
And now that Madonna’s film about Wallis Simpson, W.E., is about to be released, it’s more irresistible than ever.
Le Moulin de la Tuilerie, about half an hour’s drive from the centre of Paris, sits in a dip near the village of Gif-sur-Yvette. The Windsors’ roomy country retreat comfortably houses 11 and can be rented for a weekend or a full week.
It’s a step into the past. The main house is spacious with glorious views out over the grounds where once the stream would have turned the mill wheels.
The only piece of furniture still in situ from when the Windsors lived there from 1952 to 1972 is a large regimental drum which is now a coffee table. But there is an undeniable atmosphere.
Neat steps lead up to a crest, which the Duke named Cardiac Hill because of the effort of climbing to the top (he smoked copiously, though).
It must have been quite a sight when the couple turned up at weekends in their own cars, a Daimler and Cadillac (no prizes for guessing who was in which), each with their own entourage.
The large collection of photographs of the couple displayed on the walls shows these international jet-setters in a domestic environment. The Duke sitting cuddling his favourite pugs, the Duchess in the garden giggling over some pug antic or other.
I managed to track down a French woman still living in Gif, now in her 80s, who was born at Le Moulin. Her father was the gardener during the early years of the Windsors’ occupation.
I hoped this woman, Ginette David, might offer a pro-Wallis view, but it was not to be.
She explained that Mrs Simpson always acted in a haughty way, obliging Ginette to curtsey, whereas the Duke was kinder and liked nothing better than wandering around the grounds chatting with her dad.
Period features have been retained by the Landmark Trust after they redid the decor, and they sit well with the stone building’s current neutral, more modern feel.
Otherwise Le Moulin is an ideal backdrop for holidaymakers to go rambling and imagine what went on between its four walls.
Two guest cottages can be rented either separately or together with the main house. Society photographer Cecil Beaton was a frequent guest at La Celibataire, the bachelor pad, which sleeps two.
Next door is La Maison Des Amis, where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton stayed. Marlene Dietrich and Maria Callas were also visitors.
This small house, sleeping four, is upside down with the two bedrooms on the ground floor while the living areas are upstairs.
It looks out over the grounds where the Duke would spend hours recreating an English cottage garden with borders and dreamy delphiniums.
The Duke’s bedroom in the main house has just been repainted and Wallis’s quarters have been done up too, but none of this removes that subtle air of mystery that surrounds one of the most sensational events in British royal history, which all goes to make it the ultimate weekend retreat.
Travel Facts
Le Moulin costs from £1,285 for a three-night weekend, £907 for four nights midweek and £1,710 for a week (www.landmarktrust.org.uk).

 France: Edward VIII, Wallis Simpson, and their glitzy guests live on in Landmark Trust's first venture over the Channel.  Ian White reports

Shortly after Landmark opened the doors of Le Moulin de la Tuilerie – the weekend retreat of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor on the rural edge of Gif-sur-Yvette, in the south-western suburbs of Paris – Colin Firth captivated cinema audiences as the Duke's stammering sibling, King George VI, in this year's runaway Oscar-winner, The King's Speech. Interest in King Edward VIII, who gave up his throne in 1936 to marry the twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson, was rekindled.

The flames were fanned when Britain's newest royal couple announced plans to marry in April, and Channel 4 chimed in with a television adaptation of William Boyd's novel, Any Human Heart, in which the Windsors are portrayed. This renewed interest in the controversial couple is set to peak this summer when W.E. (Wallis and Edward), a biopic written and directed by Madonna, is due for release.

Certainly, anyone tempted to take the 40-minute trip down the RER B commuter line from the Gare du Nord to stay at the Windsors' refuge will find themselves burrowing deeper and deeper into their little-known private life. From the moment you set foot inside the 26-acre estate, with its collection of pretty 18th-century stone buildings set by a stream, beyond which lie abandoned tennis courts and the remains of a swimming pool (complete with his-and-hers changing hut), the urge to find out more becomes irresistible.

The Windsors bought Le Moulin de la Tuilerie in 1952, turning the mill into their "only real home", and a large stone barn into two cottages for guests, who included Cecil Beaton, Maria Callas, Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor and Diana Mosley (née Mitford). Another barn, with an enormous pitched roof, was converted into what they called the museum. It was filled with mementos of the Duke's official tours of the British Empire when he was Prince of Wales. An enormous map, almost covering one wall, showed where he'd been, while hunting trophies on the other walls showed what he'd shot on his travels. Regimental drums were used as coffee tables and some of these are now to be found inside Le Moulin, still serving the same purpose.

Newly refurbished by Landmark, Le Moulin sleeps 11, while the two cottages, named La Célibataire and La Maison des Amis by Wallis, sleep two and four respectively. In contrast to the Duchess's busy, garish and even perplexing décor, Landmark's approach has been to give the interiors a smart, modern feel while retaining some period features and furniture where appropriate. The ground-floor bathroom in La Célibataire, for example, has its original 1950s half bath and taps, and the panelling in La Maison des Amis is also from the Windsors' day. The museum, meanwhile, has been renamed The Orangerie and stripped bare, making it an ideal space for conferences and social gatherings.

The most remarkable original feature on site is a mural painted on the wall above the door to Le Moulin's reception room, now a breakfast/dining room. Commissioned by Wallis, it depicts a water-mill wheel, around which are inscribed the words: "I am not the miller's daughter, but I've been through the mill." Almost every room of Le Moulin, La Célibataire and La Maison des Amis has large framed photographic prints of Wallis and "David" (as Edward was known to his friends and family) posing for the camera in a range of often bizarre clothing. Many were taken by Cecil Beaton who regularly stayed at La Célibataire. As you return their stares and peer into the backgrounds, you get a feeling of life at the mill between 1952 and the late Sixties. You see Edward up to his eyes in blue delphiniums, indulging his passion for gardening, and some of Wallis's staggeringly awful interior design schemes. There are plenty of books about the Windsors on hand in each building to fill in the details.

Le Moulin de la Tuilerie signals Landmark's expansion into France and will help to fund its new division, Landmark France, but it is not typical of the type of buildings the organisation will offer in the coming years. Though it may take on projects such as Le Moulin with other property owners, Landmark France is essentially a partnership with the Conservatoire du Littoral, a public body, founded by the French State in 1975 to restore historic buildings along the French coast.

Its first two projects with the Conservatoire are La Maison de Maître (the Master's House) on Ile Tristan at the port of Douarnenez in Brittany, and Le Fort Ile Madame at the mouth of the Charente near La Rochelle. Both properties are due to open in 2013.

La Maison de Maître belonged to the master of the sardine-packing stations on Ile Tristan until 1910, when the island was bought by the family of the French poet Jean Richepin and the house was extended to accommodate their Bohemian friends from Paris. Landmark is working with the Conservatoire to improve access to the island and restore the house for hire to parties of eight. Part of the ground floor will be reserved for use as an exhibition room by the town.

Ironically, the main function of the imposing fort on Ile Madame, off the coast from La Rochelle and Rochefort, was to keep the British out in the 1860s when Anglo-French relations were unusually tense. Now Landmark is transforming its large and beautifully constructed stone barracks into two properties for eight people to stay in.

Compact facts

How to get there

Landmark Trust (01628; landmark trust.org.uk) offers La Célibataire at Le Moulin de la Tuilerie, sleeping two, from £381 for a three-night weekend; La Maison des Amis, sleeping four, from £741 for a three-night weekend; and Le Moulin, sleeping 11, from £1,403 for a three-night weekend. Ian White travelled to Paris with Eurostar (08432 186186; eurostar.com), which has return fares to Paris Gare du Nord from £69.

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