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FRENCH POLITICS

Sun, sea and mountains: Where France’s politicians go on holiday

After an unusually late session that continued into August, the French parliament has now paused for the summer holidays - and the government is heading for the beach, the mountains and the islands. Here's where the great and the good of France (well, the politicians anyway) take their holidays.

Sun, sea and mountains: Where France's politicians go on holiday
The fort de Bregancon, summer residence of France's presidents. (Photo: Boris Horvat / AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron was the first to depart Paris for the vacation, and has been photographed this week kayaking in the seas off the French Riviera.

He’s at the Presidential hideaway at Fort de Brégançon for a three-week stay – although he says it is a pause estival studieuse (summer study break) rather than a holiday. He will take part in commemorations of the Allied invasion of Provence on August 15th.

In his absence the government continued working, passing the final cost-of-living bill through parliament, but ministers are now free until the next cabinet meeting – in the diary for August 24th. 

Ministers must take their breaks at “a destination compatible with the exercise of their responsibilities”, within a two-hour flight from Paris in case their urgent presence is required.

In practice, this largely means staying in France, which anyway is pretty common for most normal French families over the summer.

So where should you go if you want to spot a French minister? Or conversely, where will you be able to avoid bumping into a member of government?

If you’re allergic to politicians, we would suggest avoiding the Mediterranean coast

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will head to the Var département, in the south east, for her holiday.

Also along south coast will be Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and Transport Minister Clément Beaune, who are both expected to spend their vacation time in Bouches-du-Rhône (although there’s no suggestion that they will be holidaying together).

Meanwhile Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti will head for Alpes-Maritimes (Nice and the surrounding area) and Minister for Territorial Organisation and Health Professions minister Agnès Firmin Le Bodo will holiday in Vaucluse.

Just over the sea is the island of Corsica, which is also popular with government ministers.

Franck Riester, burdened with the title Minister Delegate for Relations with Parliament and Democratic Life, will be heading there, along with his colleagues Catherine Colonna (Europe Minister) and Public Accounts Minister Gabriel Attal.

Again, we should point out that these are separate holidays on the same island, there’s no suggestion that the three will be sharing a villa and rubbing suncream onto each other’s backs. 

France’s northern coastline of Brittany and Normandy has long been popular with holidaymakers and government ministers are no exception.

Education Minister Pap Ndiaye and Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu will both head for Normandy for their vacations.

Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak is heading in the same direction – and will spend a few days Saint-Brieuc, Côtes-d’Armor, before heading for the Chartreuse massif, in the south-east of the country.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire is expected to start his holiday period with a week in Brittany, before heading down to the Basque Country in the far south-west of France. He owns a second-home in the Basque Country, which was recently targeted by protesters worried about the effect that the large numbers of maisons secondaires are having on the local economy.

And finally there are those ministers who quit Paris and head back to the regions where they grew up.

Minister for People with Disabilities Geneviève Darrieussecq will head home to the Landes département in south west France.

Health Minister François Braun will holiday in the Alps, while Environment Minister Christophe Béchu will head back to his roots in Maine-et-Loire. Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau, too, is holidaying at home in Loir-et-Cher.

Because of the unusually late session in August, Parliament is not scheduled to return until October 3rd.

However, ministers will be back in Paris by August 24th for their next cabinet meeting and the month of September will be spent drafting and consulting on some major pieces of legislation – including a bill on immigration and a far-reaching energy bill that aims to cut the entire country’s energy use by 10 percent. 

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DISCOVER FRANCE

Mine-riddled French island becomes unlikely walkers’ paradise

Every year, thousands of day-trippers make the short boat journey from France's northern coast to the island of Cezembre, marvelling at the spectacular maritime views and flourishing wildlife.

Mine-riddled French island becomes unlikely walkers' paradise

But they better tread carefully and stick to the path, as almost all the island remains perilous due to unexploded munitions from World War II.

Cezembre opened to visits only in 2018, over seven decades after the end of World War II, after extensive de-mining efforts allowed the opening of a marked path for visitors.

However, the area safe for visitors makes up just three percent of the island, which experts say was the most bombed area of all of World War II in terms of the number of hits per square metre.

“It’s magnificent!” enthused Maryse Wilmart, a 60-year-old visitor from the southwestern town of La Rochelle, contemplating the sandy beach with turquoise waters and looking out to the ramparts of the port city of Saint-Malo beyond.

Tourists pass by signs reading “no trepassing – Danger” on Cezembre Island, Photo by Damien MEYER / AFP

“But when you see all that behind us… Can you even imagine what happened here?” she asked, pointing to the barbed wire and signs warning “Danger! Ground not cleared beyond the fences!”

A visitor needs to go back 80 years to understand what happened on this usually uninhabited rocky outcrop.

In 1942, the occupying Nazi German army seized the strategically important island and installed bunkers and artillery pieces.

On August 17th, 1944, Saint-Malo was liberated by the Americans but the Nazi commander of Cezembre, leading some 400 men, refused to surrender.

There then followed a devastating bombardment from the air by the Allies.

“It is said that per square metre it sustained the greatest number of bombardments of all the theatres of operation of World War II,” said Philippe Delacotte, author of the book “The Secrets of the Island of Cezembre”.

A beach on Cezembre Island, off Saint-Malo’. Photo by Damien MEYER / AFP

“There were between 4,000 and 5,000 bombs dropped”, some of which contained napalm, he said.

On September 2nd, 1944, the white flag was finally raised and some 350 exhausted men surrendered.

“Some survivors claimed it was like Stalingrad,” Delacotte said. The island was completely devastated, to the extent that its altitude even dropped because of the bombs.

After the war, the island became the property of the French ministry of defence and access was totally closed, with the first de-mining efforts starting in the 1950s.

It was handed over to a public coastal conservation body, the Conservatoire du Littoral, in 2017.

The path of about 800 metres lets visitors wander between rusty cannons and bunkers, with breathtaking views towards Cap Frehel and the Pointe de la Varde.

Since the opening of the path, “there has been no accident” even if “there are always people who want to go beyond the authorised section,” said Jean-Christophe Renais, a coast guard.

Over time, colonies of seabirds have reappeared, including seagulls, cormorants, razorbills and guillemots.

“Biodiversity is doing wonderfully, everything has been recolonised and revegetated, birds have taken back possession of the site,” said Gwenal Hervouet, who manages the site for Conservatoire du Littoral.

“It’s just a joy.”

Because of the focus on restoring wildlife, the trail was partially closed in April “to maximise the chances of success and the flight of peregrine falcon chicks,” said local conservation activist Manon Simonneau.

Some walkers say they hope the trail will be lengthened to allow a complete tour of the island, but according to the Conservatoire there is little chance of this — the cost of further demining would be astronomical, so it is now birds and nature that are the masters of Cezembre.

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