Want a holiday from the politicians? Avoid France

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The Independent Online
Holidaymakers wishing to avoid politicians should think again if they have made a booking in France. Our nearest neighbour is now the favourite place for Cabinet ministers and Opposition leaders to get away from it all.

MPs have packed their bags for an 89-day break - their longest for 15 years - with France their top destination, replacing Chiantishire (Tuscany, northern Italy) in their affections. The Prime Minister will start a fortnight's holiday in France tomorrow with lunch in Paris with President Jacques Chirac. Number 10 was coy about precisely where John Major will be buying his croissants, but it marks a change from recent annual breaks in Portugal.

Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, is taking a break "somewhere overseas".

Tony Blair is heading off to the south of France to show his modernising credentials on the Cote d'Azur, while Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrats and a Francophile, is hiring a gite in the Burgundy region of western France to prepare for his party conference in September.

France is also the holiday destination of Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, and a fluent French speaker; Stephen Dorrell, Secretary of State for Health; and Michael Howard, the Home Secretary. Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, is off to his family farmhouse near Dieppe in Normandy before heading for Italy. Kenneth Clarke will pack his bags for Spain this weekend to spend a fortnight in the sunshine away from the Greenbury committee, fat cats and the flak around Westminster. But the Chancellor will not be exposing his own inflationary figure to the heat on the sands of Benidorm. "He is not a beach man," said one of his friends.

Among members of the Shadow Cabinet, Donald Dewar, social security spokesman, says he prefers Scotland to abroad and will be walking in the Highlands. David Blunkett is taking his three sons to Minorca: "I enjoy the sunshine and relaxation of Spain."

The Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, and the Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Portillo, have made special arrangements to be reached easily on holiday should the Bosnian crisis escalate.

Meanwhile, Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for National Heritage and the minister responsible for tourism, is flying the flag for Britain by spending her holidays, as usual, on the Isle of Wight.