Where world leaders go to get away from it all

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Indy Politics

George W will be staying home on the range, Silvio is off on his yacht, Vladimir is wallowing in Soviet nostalgia and Gerhard is going cheap again.

As Tony Blair jets out to Mexico with his family, a survey of the holiday plans of his fellow world leaders shows that when it comes to summer-break destinations, the personal really is the political.

With the notable exception of Jacques Chirac, who is being forced to abandon his usual jaunts to exotic islands, politicians across the globe have chosen locations that reflect their differing characters.

Some borrow homes from wealthy pals, some use official state residences, and others simply opt for their own private accommodation. Yet in each case, where they take their R&R speaks volumes.

True to form, President Bush will begin today an admirably long break at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. A man who knows that Europe is roughly east of Connecticut, the US's laid-back leader will shun foreign climes and even the normal presidential retreat of Kennebunkport in favour of his own place on the plain. Equally characteristically, Russia's President Putin is in Bocharov Ruchei, the Kremlin's official residence in the resort of Sochi on the Black Sea.

The Russian leader more than fulfilled his cold-hearted, Cold War stereotype last year when he ignored modern political practice and his spin doctors by staying put on the beach even as the submarine Kursk went down with all hands. Apart from a brief trip back to Moscow to meet Kim Jong Il, Mr Putin will again spend the summer in Sochi.

More prosaically, Wim Kok, the Dutch Prime Minister, is currently in Britain touring around the West Country in a brown Ford, staying at bed and breakfast hotels with his wife, Rita. Mr Kok, a former leader of a building workers' union, is known for his low-key attitude to life and has been known to turn up for government meetings by bicycle.

Another European leader with a taste for the basic is Gerhard Schröder. Bohemian he may be, but Mr Schröder is never one to pay for a flash villa or hotel, preferring to spend his time with wife, Doris, and 10-year-old stepdaughter Klara in a modest mountainside house near Pesaro in Italy.

The house, owned by his friend the artist Bruno Bruni, will also cater for his five security staff, each of whom doubles up as tennis partners. Like any other German civil servant, Mr Schröder gets 30 days holiday but only takes, wait for it, 25 days. "Italy is a wonderful country. I like the mentality of the people," he said this week.

It is expected that the German leader, dubbed the "Cashmere Chancellor" after he appeared in GQ magazine wearing a suit of that cloth, will be taking his favourite Cuban Cohiba cigars. The French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, will be less flamboyant, choosing to stay with his wife, a philosopher, in the quiet surroundings of his own modest second home in D'Oléron on France's Atlantic coast.

Jose Maria Aznar, Spain's Prime Minister, has abandoned his usual villa in Oropesa near Benidorm, after questions were raised this year about the businessman who loaned him the house. Señor Aznar will instead by holidaying on Menorca. He will, however, stage his annual photo-call which sees him coming out of the surf to slick back his hair for the cameras.

One politician who has no need to borrow a villa from anyone is Silvio Berlusconi, the tycoon-turned-Italian PM who will take his million-pound yacht to his luxury home in Sardinia this month.

The perma-tanned comeback kid of Italian politics has no embarrassment at his wealth – he could even jet off to his other home in Bermuda.

However, the big loser this year is undoubtedly the French President, Jacques Chirac. Under media siege over the funding of previous holidays to Mauritius, Japan and Morocco, he has been forced by public opinion to stay at the French equivalent of Chequers in Fort Bragancon in the Var region. An imposing, dusty relic, Mr Chirac absolutely hates it.

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