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
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star