The day I met the French president - in his garden

This Sunday was only the second time that the gardens of the Élysée palace, home to one François Hollande, were open to the public on a Sunday. This is now a regular occurrence, every last Sunday of the month. It was one of Hollande's campaign promises. Before that, the only way to see the gardens was to queue up for several long hours during the "Heritage Days" weekend, once a year in September.


I decided to take a look and, needless to say, was not the only one to have this bright idea. Hundreds of people were queuing up outside, which meant I had to wait half an hour. No doubt some of those queuing were hoping to have their snapshot taken in the gardens, like Hollande himself.


The first thing you see on entering the gardens is a rather nice fountain, with the Élysée palace in the background. After that you turn the corner onto a huge lawn, which covers a whopping 7,000 m². It was a perfect autumnal day for it, with blue skies above the trees and fallen leaves underfoot.


The gardens, with the Élysée palace in the background.


A maple tree in the Élysée gardens.


The Élysée palace, looking out onto the gardens.


I walked up to the back of the palace to take photos. Through the windows, I could make out chandeliers and other ornate furniture. I had read that last month, François Hollande and his partner, Valérie Trierweiler, had already come out to greet the public. So I was taken by surprise when, all of a sudden, the doors opened and they walked out. Immediately, the public turned into paparazzi – albeit very polite paparazzi – as they jostled to shake hands with Hollande, take a picture of him, or have their photo taken with him. I managed to shake hands with Hollande and take some photos of the presidential couple.


President François Hollande and his partner, Valérie Trierweiler, greeting the public.

The couple appeared in good spirits - perhaps due to the "psychodrama" still unfolding at the opposition UMP party? - and spent around fifteen minutes with the public. They even received a round of applause before returning inside. Everyone seemed pleased they had appeared.


Hollande and his partner spent fifteen minutes shaking hands and having their photographs taken.


Both Hollande and Trierweiler (pictured) looked at ease with the public.


Afterwards, I spoke to Salima, age 50, from Paris. She said she had come to the Élysée gardens for the first time, after going round the Christmas markets with her daughter, Sirine, age 6. Salima was lucky enough to have her photo taken with Hollande. She herself then took a picture of her daughter with Valérie Trierweiler. “I made some people jealous around me but I can assure you I was very, very surprised”, she told me.


Salima and her daughter Sirine, after meeting the president and first lady.

“He won’t do that every time,” a man muttered as the presidential couple advanced through the crowd. I would tend to agree. So if you are in Paris and want to meet the French president, you know where to go - but don't wait too long.


All photos © Caroline Clarkson.

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