One man’s dream: Maurice Burrus (1882-1959)
An industrialist with many faces
Born in 1882 at Sainte-Croix-aux-Mines (Haut-Rhin), Maurice Burrus was from a family of industrialists who had made a fortune from tobacco. In 1911, after studies in Dole, Paris and Hanover, he inherited the family cigarette business with his cousin, André Burrus.
With his multi-faceted personality Maurice Burrus was both a public and political figure–he was elected to parliament in 1932, he was a patron of the arts, an art collector, a renowned philatelist recognised worldwide, passionate about archaeology (he financed the dig at Vaison-la-Romaine among others) and was a great landowner.
The purchase of the forest
Maurice Burrus bought the Saoû forest in 1924 wanting to keep it for hunting and to raise Shetland sheep. However, he quickly changed his mind and decided to convert the forest to green tourism. He launched a conversion plan with a replanting programme and also adding picnic tables and creating a passable track that circled the massif, but the creation of the inn was the programme’s crowning achievement.
The inn’s first incarnation
The building of the inn
To create the inn Maurice Barrus called on an architect in Romans sur Isère, Paul Boyer. He designed a simple and functional building on two levels, on the ground floor was to be the restaurant, bar and kitchens and above were bedrooms.
The years of prosperity
When it opened in October 1930 the inn amazed the local people with the splendour of the events it put on; the first decade of the inn’s life included Venetian festivals, famous bands, and concerts. It rapidly became a favourite destination for the people of the Drôme, not just the middle classes and business- people but also working-class families who came to relax in the forest.
Decline and oblivion
The prosperity did not last long, the Second World War put a stop to the functioning of the inn and after the war the Saoû forest and its inn were no longer among Maurice Burrus’ priorities. The inn slowly declined. Empty and unused, inevitably the building deteriorated and was, in the end, only used as an occasional backdrop for wedding photos.
Renewal – the new Inn
Acquisition par le Département
When the Department acquired the forest in 2003, the inn was a ruin.
Once the work to make it safe was completed the question of the future of the building was raised.
It was finally decided to create a visitor centre whose objective is to allow the many visitors to the forest to get to know it better, to stimulate their curiosity and help them understand its rich natural resources
For further information download our mobile application: a walk narrated by Maurice Burrus here