Blair will take his summer holiday in France after turning down a free trip to Tuscany

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Downing Street denied yesterday that the Blairs would make a controversial return to a Tuscan palace as part of the family's summer holiday this year.

Downing Street denied yesterday that the Blairs would make a controversial return to a Tuscan palace as part of the family's summer holiday this year.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman dismissed as "plain wrong" suggestions by Italian news agencies that the Blairs would go back to a 50-bedroom palace, complete with a swimming pool and tennis courts, owned by Prince Girolamo Strozzi.

But the Prime Minister's attempts to keep his family's destination under wraps were undermined by his French counterpart. After a meeting in Downing Street, Jean-Pierre Raffarin told reporters: "I believe we will next see one another in France on the occasion of the Prime Minister's holidays."

Last year, the Blairs stayed for two weeks at a chateau in the south of France owned by Sir David Keene, a High Court judge.

Before they fly abroad next month, the Blairs will again take a short break in Britain. Last year, they spent four rainy days in Cornwall in a show of support for a beleaguered tourist industry suffering from the effects of the foot-and-mouth epidemic. It was the first time anyone could remember the couple spending any of their holiday in Britain.

Pressed on their plans this year, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The family will be having a short holiday in the UK, then go for a holiday in continental Europe. It will be a family holiday paid for entirely by the family and they would hope to be able to enjoy a holiday free from intrusion."

A spokeswoman for the English Tourism Council said: "We very much welcome the Blairs spending some time in the UK. Wherever the family go it will create a lot of interest and increased bookings.''

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