Musée de Villèle

Museum in St-Gilles-les-Bains

This museum is set in the former home of the wealthy and very powerful Madame Panon-Desbassayns, a coffee and sugar baroness who, among other things, owned 300 slaves. The house, which is only accessible on a guided tour, was built in 1787 and is full of elegant period furniture. After the tour, wander the outbuildings and the 10-hectare park.

Legend has it that she was a cruel woman and that her tormented screams can still be heard from the hellish fires whenever Piton de la Fournaise is erupting. Exhibits include a clock presented to the Desbassayns by Napoleon; a set of china featuring Paul et Virginie, the love story by Bernardin de St-Pierre; and, last but not least, a portrait of Madame Panon-Desbassayns in a red turban looking surprisingly impish. Signs are in French and English.