The hermit, a car crash, his widow and the dosh

It was an unusual marriage, and a short one. John Lichfield on the anger among villagers towards the wife who inherits a mountainside

The wedding of Sandrine and Marcel Amphoux in a French Alpine village was a memorable affair. She was a glamorous 42-year-old Parisian estate agent and he a toothless, 67-year-old local hermit. The villagers of Puy Saint Pierre turned up to boo and shout insults.

That was 15 months ago. Last week the village (population 520) turned out en masse once again –for Marcel's funeral. This time, there were no boos, but there were angry murmurs when the widow, elegantly dressed in black, tried to hurl herself into Marcel's grave.

The parish priest gave a sermon in which he spoke of "manipulation". He suggested that Marcel, 68, the owner of five potentially valuable shepherds' huts, had been treated like a "balance sheet" rather than a human being.

Sandrine, 43, sat in silence. She gave her own eulogy for Marcel, which – to the fury of villagers – was dotted with references to Islam, rather than Christianity.

Marcel Amphoux died in a road accident 10 days ago. A car driven by a friend of his wife plunged from a mountain road in heavy mist. Marcel was killed instantly. The friend was badly hurt. The accident has been investigated by the gendarmerie. Foul play is not suspected. Sandrine will inherit Marcel's five tumbledown properties and six acres of barren mountainside close to the rapidly expanding ski resort of Serre Chevalier, near Briançon.

The marriage between Marcel and Sandrine was short but eventful. Their wedding picture appeared all over the world in September last year. Sandrine wore a magnificent mauve silk dress and carried a bunch of roses and a jewelled handbag. Marcel wore a grey suit, mauve silk tie and waistcoat and his battered, floppy hat.

After that, Sandrine spent most of her time in Paris, looking after her four businesses, including an estate agency. Marcel continued to live in one of his mountain huts, without electricity or running water. Sandrine and Marcel never lived together but they did make a pop record and a video clip, which was available on YouTube until last week. (It has now been blocked.)

The video was Sandrine's response to those villagers who suggested that her interest in the eccentric, local bachelor might not be entirely romantic. She cavorted in the Alpine meadows like a blonde Julie Andrews. She sang her own composition, "L'appel du soleil" ("The call of the sun"). Marcel – one assumed that it was Marcel – butted in from time to time, his face covered by a hood.

When the video was made in April, Sandrine spoke about their unconventional marriage to the local press. "Marcel is a man from the Middle Ages, even prehistoric times," she said. "I am a true Parisian. I still live there. But I visit my husband as often as I can. To see him and to make him smile."

Sandrine says that she met Marcel on holiday and that they fell in love. Marcel's neighbours say that she tried to buy his land and, when he refused, she courted him with trips to restaurants and the seaside. As the neighbouring ski resort expands, they say, Marcel's property will be worth a fortune. Old shepherds' huts, converted and extended into ski chalets, can sell for up to €800,000 (£646,000).

Villagers say that Marcel was a "marginal" and eccentric bachelor, who was forced by the veterinary authorities to give up farming 20 years ago. Sandrine says that Marcel's good nature was long abused by local people, some of whom had lived for many years in his properties for free.

After their marriage, the tenants received letters from Marcel's lawyer, complaining that they were not paying the rent. They paid up. Marcel never banked the cheques. The lawyer says that Marcel was unhappy with the marriage and had recently started an action to bring it to an end. Sandrine denies this.

At Marcel's funeral last Monday, Sandrine gave a dramatic oration in which she raised her arms to heaven and said "God is great" and "when the sun rises towards Mecca". As Marcel was buried, she had to be restrained from throwing herself into his grave.

Local people had accused Sandrine of trying to hold the funeral secretly. They turned out in force. One person gave a eulogy in which he described Marcel as "always the last person out collecting wood and the last person on the hillside bringing home his donkeys".

The local priest, Father Bertrand Gournay, refused to marry the couple in September last year. He said last week: "The circumstances of the marriage did not seem healthy to me … I knew Marcel, and he trusted me. If he had really wanted to marry, he would have come to me alone and asked me."

At the funeral, Fr Gournay said that "at the end of his life" Marcel was of more interest as a "balance sheet" than a human being.

A banner was placed on Marcel's house which read: "If you had never married, you would still be riding your tractor."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This winner of the best new business in shrops...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager - Email Marketing Services

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are looking for a highly or...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultan...

Recruitment Genius: Plumber

£22000 - £25900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company is expanding and th...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders