In Depth

Inside Fort Bregancon: May invited to Macron’s summer retreat

PM returning from holiday early to join French president for Brexit talks at 13th century fort

Theresa May is to cut short her summer break in order to join French President Emmanuel Macron for Brexit talks at his luxury summer getaway.

The prime minister has cancelled the rest of her stay at Italy’s Lake Garda for a swiftly arranged summit on Friday at Fort de Bregancon, which sits on a tiny island just off the French Mediterranean coast. The meeting will be followed by a private dinner that will be attended by Macron’s wife, Brigitte, and May’s husband, Philip.

The fort has been the official retreat of the president of France since 1968, but its history stretches back even further than the French Republic.

Here The Week talks a look inside this ancient getaway on the French Riviera.

History

Fort de Bregancon was built in the 13th century as a military encampment and lookout over the Mediterranean Sea, and “belonged to a variety of noble families as they fell in and out of power throughout the centuries”, says Culture Trip.

“The fort was besieged several times and used as a place to escape. Queen Jeanne Ire stayed in 1348 after fleeing Naples, which had been invaded by her cousin – she used it as a pit stop on her way to taking refuge in Marseille,” the travel site continues. “The fort wasn’t badly affected by the French Revolution, although a few items were plundered by locals.”

The property first rose to prominence among the ruling class when Napoleon decided to stay there during the winter of 1793-94. He subsequently fortified it further after becoming emperor. Following the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, the fort slowly fell into disrepair. A small garrison occupied the site during the First World War, until it was finally decommissioned in 1919.

Official residence

Former president Charles de Gaulle turned the fort into the official summer residence for French leaders in 1968, but left after a single night, complaining about the uncomfortable bed and mosquitoes, The Times reports.

In the 1970s, president Georges Pompidou began using the fort to entertain foreign leaders, as did his successor, Valery Giscard d’Estaing.

Since then, every French president has come to “take some time off from the demands of the Elysee Palace in Paris, to rest under the sound of the cicadas, and to enjoy the private beach and the spectacular view from the patio”, says Sydney-based news site News.com.au.

The current president landed himself in hot water with France’s press in June when he expressed a wish to have a pool built at the residence, which has not been renovated since the 1970s.

The Local France claimed that Macron “certainly doesn’t seem too concerned about shaking off his image as a ‘president of the rich’”.

Nevertheless, says the Daily Mail, visitors to the fort - open for restricted public tours since 2014 - should not expect the “marble, gilding and elegant parquet floors that you find in many French palaces”.

“Instead, the white walls and simple tiles on the floor - in the local Mediterranean style - make it look like a family house.”

What will Macron and May discuss?

According to The Guardian, the meeting between May and Macron is part of the UK government’s strategy to “go over the head of the European Commission and engage with national leaders directly”.

However, French officials have reportedly “warned that Macron would be unlikely to accept any deal that bypassed Brussels, even as May is trying to address key issues over security cooperation and financial services”.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, last week rejected May’s proposal to keep the land frontier between the UK and EU member Ireland open and without a hard border that she fears could severely hamper trade.

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