Petit Prince writer’s château bought by French region

The author, now known as a "national hero" in France, spent part of his childhood at the château in the Ain

The childhood château of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of much-loved French book Le Petit Prince, has been bought by the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, for a €30 million project.

The 18th century château is set in five hectares of land in the commune of Saint-Maurice-de-Rémens, in the Ain. It was the home of the famous author for a part of his childhood.

Now, the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region is set to transform the property into a cultural centre dedicated to the life and work of the writer, who also worked as an aviator.

The property is estimated to have been bought for €950,000.

The renovation and building budget is said to be between €20 million-€30 million, and will be funded by the commune, the department, and the wider region, including the commune community of la Plaine de l’Ain.

Regional president Laurent Wauquiez said: “To understand Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, we must bring him back to the ground of his childhood, and make a place that will restore his poetry, and which speaks to families.

"We will make one of the greatest sites of our region - at once poetic and modern - which will represent the importance of the balance between man and nature; a theme very dear to Saint-Exupéry [himself].”

The purchase is expected to be complete by the summer of 2020, with work beginning in 2021-22.

The château became the home of Mr de Saint-Exupéry after his mother, Marie de Fonscolombe, inherited it from her aunt Gabrielle de Lestrange. It had previously been used by the family as a frequent holiday home.

In his 1939 book, Terre des Hommes - published five years before his death and known as Wind, Sand and Stars in English - the writer would make reference to “a park full of black fir and lime trees, with an old house that I loved”.

The property was bought by the schools department of the city of Lyon in 1932, and transformed into a summer camp. It would later became a boarding school in the 1950s, but lay empty and unused for many years afterwards.

In 2009, it was sold to the commune of Saint-Maurice-de-Rémens, which has been working on ideas to reuse and highlight the space ever since.

Saint-Exupéry, as the author is commonly known in France, was a French writer, journalist and aviator, who gained fame and accolades in France during his lifetime.

His best-known work is the self-illustrated 1943 book Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), which has been translated into more than 300 languages and dialects, and was once voted "the best book of the 20th century" in France.

Lyon’s main airport is also named after him.

Born in 1900, he is thought to have died during a reconnaissance mission in July 1944, as part of his aviation work with the Free French Air Force in North Africa.

The circumstances surrounding his death remain contested, but he has since become known as a “national hero” in France.

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