France rolls out the red carpet for King Charles III's state visit
King Charles III and Camilla, the Queen Consort arrive in a carriage for Ladies Day of the Royal Ascot horse racing meeting, at Ascot Racecourse in Ascot, England, Thursday, June 22, 2023. King Charles III of the United Kingdom starts a three-day state visit to France on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, meant to highlight with great pomp both nations' friendship, after the trip was postponed in March amid widespread demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension changes.(AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)
Sylvie Corbet, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, September 20, 2023 6:04AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 20, 2023 5:20PM EDT
PARIS (AP) - Britain's King Charles III praised France's “wonderful welcome” at a grand dinner held in his honor Wednesday night at the sumptuous Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles, marking his state visit meant to underline the friendship between both nations.
In a toast mostly pronounced in French, the king said that “once again, France and the French people have shown a warm welcome and profound kindness, for which we are most grateful.”
Charles and his Queen Camilla were greeted with great pomp earlier Wednesday in a ceremony at Paris' Arc de Triomphe by French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte.
The trip to France originally was planned for March but had to be postponed becasue of widespread demonstrations against Macron's pension changes.
“It's up to all of us to reinvigorate our friendship to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” Charles said in Versailles.
Macron called the visit “a sign of friendship and trust that we truly appreciate and that deeply touches us.”
Women in flowing gowns and men in tuxedos walked down a red carpet rolled out on the cobblestones of Versailles. Some of the guests paused and posed for photographers in a scene reminiscent of the Cannes Film Festival.
Camilla and Brigitte Macron appeared to have coordinated, wearing navy blue evening dresses.
Among those invited were British actor Hugh Grant, writer Ken Follett, Rolling Stones' singer Mike Jagger, sport figures including football player Didier Drogba and the head of the Paris Olympics organization committee, Tony Estanguet, as well as many CEOs and senior politicians.
The menu included blue lobster and crab followed by Bresse poultry and a gratin of cep mushrooms prepared, respectively, by French chefs Anne-Sophie Pic and Yannick Alleno. Both have been awarded three Michelin stars. The cheese course featured France's Comte and Britain's Stichelton blue cheese. For dessert, world-famous pastry chef Pierre Herme prepared his rose macaroon cookie, made of rose petal cream, raspberries and lychees.
Earlier at the Arc de Triomphe, Macron offered Charles a warm welcome, often putting his hand on his arm and his back. Both smiled as they chatted together.
National anthems were played before a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The jet fighters of the Patrouille de France and Britain's Red Arrows, the acrobatic teams of the two air forces, flew together above the monument, leaving a trail of red, white and blue smoke in the Parisian sky.
Both the royal and the presidential couples appeared to struggle with a strong wind, which tousled Macron's hair and forced Camilla to hold on tightly to her pink, beret-style hat.
Paris city centerwas under high security for the occasion, with thousands of police officers and surveillance drones being deployed.
Small crowds gathered behind a wide range of barriers on the Champs-Elysees to get a chance to see the royal parade.
Charles and Macron, followed by Brigitte and Camilla in another car, drove to the presidential palace under escort from the horses of the French National Guard, waving at the crowd.
Macron and Charles held a bilateral meeting at the Elysee Palace, where they were expected to discuss their joint commitment to better protect biodiversity and combat global warming.
The agenda was also due to include talks on Russia's war in Ukraine and the migration issue as Italy's southern island of Lampedusa was in recent days overwhelmed by people setting off from Tunisia.
Charles and Macron wrapped up their meeting with a short walk to the nearby U.K. ambassador's residence.
As Parisians gathered along the way, some could be heard calling, “Long live the king.”
Samia Krari, a law student, said she waited for Charles because “it's the first time he's coming in France as the king of England so that's something that is fabulous. We want to be there for this special occasion.”
Karim Madiou, a worker in the banking industry, noted that “we say in France that it's the monarchy folklore â€¦ so I just want to see the big deal in real.”
While the U.K. royal family long ago ceded political power to elected leaders, members of the royal family remain Britain's preeminent ambassadors as presidents and prime ministers jockey to bask in the glamour and pageantry that follows them wherever they go.
The visit comes amid a recent warming in the Franco-British relationship after years marked by Brexit talks and related disputes.
At a bilateral summit in March, Macron and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak agreed to strengthen military ties and step up efforts to prevent migrants from crossing the English Channel.
“We know that the British and French relationship has been difficult at times since 2016,” Ed Owens, a historian of the British monarchy, told The Associated Press.
“This move on the part of the British state to send the king to France is about reassuring the people of France, but also the people of the U.K. that this is a relationship of significant important and that it is based on history, heritage and that there are many other things in our shared futures that connect us.”
On Thursday, Charles will address French lawmakers at the Senate.
He will later rejoin Macron in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral to see the renovation work aimed at reopening the monument by the end of next year.
Charles and Macron will also attend a reception for British and French business leaders about financing climate-related and biodiversity projects.
The king will end his trip Friday with a stop in Bordeaux, home to a large British community. He will meet emergency workers and communities affected by the 2022 wildfires in the area and visit the Foret Experimentale, or experimental forest, a project designed to monitor the impact of climate on urban woodlands.
He will also tour a vineyard that has pioneered a sustainable approach to wine making.
Danica Kirka in London and Alexander Turnbull in Paris contributed to the story.