Ah, Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune! It’s everything you’d expect from an idyllic French chateau in Burgundy’s wine country: a 12-hectare property with a tree-lined driveway and manicured lawns, crossed by a river that once fed the moats of this ancient castle, and fighter jets liberally scattered across the grounds. Wait, what?
Back in the 1980s, former pilot and racing-driver Michel Pont inherited a centuries-old French chateau. Pont also happened to be an avid collector of vintage planes, among other things, which for years he had rescued from countries across the world, partly to prevent them from being destroyed.
Pont’s new property was the perfect place to assemble his burgeoning collection of military hardware, and local villagers strolling home from the boulangerie began to see some incongruous additions to the old chateau. Parked on its lawns were an F-100F Super Sabre, an F-16, a MiG-21, and the French fighter-bomber Dassault Super Mystère.
Pont, now 87, is as of October 2019 recognized as the world’s biggest private collector of fighter planes. At the last count, his collection of fighter jets numbered 110, officially listed by Guinness as the largest collection of its type in the world.
But the Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune isn’t only home to fighter planes. Nine separate museums are now located in the chateau and on its grounds, each dedicated to a different type of vehicle. As well as a soviet helicopter and a 1970s hovercraft sitting on the back lawn, visitors can explore a warehouse full of vintage fire trucks, a room containing more than 200 antique motorbikes, a collection of more than 30 Abarth racing cars, around 2,500 1:72 scale model aircraft, and about 30 high-clearance tractors built for use in the vineyards.
Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune now receives around 40,000 visitors each year, a fact that has made Pont a happy man. Talking to Guinness, he explained the reason behind his collection and his joy at seeing others taking an interest:
“I enjoy saving them, these objects that no one else wants anymore. If I had not been crazy enough to buy these planes they would have all been cut into pieces and made into aluminium bars…. My collections make me happy, but I’m glad other people who are passionate about them can enjoy them. It’s comforting to know I’ve not wasted my time.”