With the ongoing global recession, resurfacing worries over swine flu, and the gloom of a post–Michael Jackson era, we all deserve a break—even those of us responsible for running a nation. This summer, ditching the media and the bodyguards for some private leisure time, presidents, prime ministers, and even the pope are traveling to their favorite spots. Some world leaders choose to spend time with their families, others with teenage models (you know who you are, Signor Cavaliere). And, while most try to keep their summer escapades low-key, the Russian prime minister hires an official photographer to capture his adventures, which include bare-chested horseback riding. Curious where Carla Bruni will be sunbathing or which leader owns the remote-control waterfall? Read on.
Honcho: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
His spot: Siberia
Last August, Russian guns stormed Georgia. This summer, the gun show is in Siberia. We're talking about Vladimir Putin's action-man muscles, which he prominently exposed during his trip to the remote region of Tuva in Siberia. Official photos released last week show the shirtless prime minister riding a horse, swimming an impressive butterfly stroke, and breaking firewood over his knee. With his daring outdoor activities, the 56-year-old Putin hopes to portray himself as a symbol of strength and stability.
In the past, Putin has publicized this macho image by performing in an instructional judo video (in which he's seen viciously throwing opponents down to the mat), copiloting a fighter jet, and shooting a Siberian tiger. But beneath the rugged figure there is also intellect and generosity, the new images seem to say. In one, he is resting pensively in a tree, and in another he is offering his watch to a local boy.
This isn't Putin's first vacation photo shoot. In August 2007, when pictures of him fishing topless with Prince Albert II of Monaco were released, comparisons with Brokeback Mountain were made and he was embraced as an icon among Russia's gay community.
Honcho: President Barack Obama
His spot: Martha's Vineyard
Looks as if Putin isn't the only one who's been working out. Our very own President Obama unwittingly displayed his abs to the nation in December 2008, when a photographer captured him hitting the beaches in Hawaii. But shooting those swimsuit photos may be more difficult this summer. The Martha's Vineyard farmhouse that the Obamas are renting for the end of August has private beach access, not to mention an apple orchard and flower gardens. The president can get plenty of exercise during his trip, since the 28-acre farm comes with a basketball court, a practice golf tee, and a swimming pool. The weekly rental of the $20 million estate costs between $30,000 and $50,000.
The Obamas will not be alone on the popular East Coast island. Chelsea Clinton is reportedly getting married there, which means a former first family will be in attendance. And if Obama just wants to kick back with a beer, he's got his old pal Henry Louis Gates Jr., who also spends his summer at the Vineyard.
Honcho: President Abdullah Gül
His spot: Central Anatolia, the Mediterranean
While Obama geared up for Martha's Vineyard, the Turkish president spent quality time last month with his parents at their vineyard in the central Anatolian town of Kayseri. During the four days he was there, the president relaxed with relatives and old friends. He also spent some time in the garden, picking apricots for his mother's marmalade and climbing a wall, under the watchful eyes of his bodyguards, to reach an almond tree. Accompanied by his wife, he hiked up a local mountain and rode a horse. Unlike the Russian prime minister, he was fully clothed.
Throughout the summer, the president has been largely involved in the Kurdish reconciliation initiative, paying visits to Turkey's southeastern provinces. But later this month he will shift his attention to the country's western coast, where he plans to take another vacation with his children, ages 17 to 25. There he will rent a motor yacht to visit the Mediterranean bays of Turkey—a Gül family tradition. The president will spend a few days on the boat, picking the most isolated bays to stop and swim, a strategy he hopes will keep the media away. (Last year, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had to cut his vacation short when he was photographed by paparazzi in a coastal summer town inside Turkey). During the cruise, Gül will take hourlong swims and catch up on his reading via Kindle (on which he reportedly reads NEWSWEEK).
Honcho: President Nicolas Sarkozy
His spot: French Riviera
According to a March study, 51 percent of French citizens cannot afford a summer vacation. President Sarkozy is clearly in the lucky minority, thanks in part to his wife, Carla Bruni. This summer, the couple is staying at the Bruni family villa in Cap Nègre in the southeast of France for what he says is "well-deserved rest." Three weeks of sea and sunshine may be just what the president needs after his recent collapse during a jog.
While Sarkozy has chosen the rocky coast of the French Riviera to soak up the sun this summer, in the past he has ventured outside of France to relax. In August 2007 he stayed in a summer estate in New Hampshire, taking morning runs around Lake Winnipesaukee and going for afternoon swims in it. He was also invited to Kennebunkport, Maine, by his friend George W. Bush, and the two ate hot dogs and hamburgers at the Bush family's oceanfront estate. Sarkozy's decision to remain in France this summer might have been affected by a controversy at home over who was footing the bill for that America trip. Or he may have sworn off the United States as a vacation spot after a confrontation with two American photographers in which Sarkozy lost his temper, jumped on their boat, and yelled at them in French.
Honcho: Prime Minister Gordon Brown
His spot: Fife, Scotland
Like Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Brown has been criticized back home for getaways in the United States. As Britain's chancellor of the Exchequer, he used to vacation regularly in Massachusetts (he even had his honeymoon there in 2000), reading and playing tennis at a rented house in Cape Cod. But in an effort to promote Britain's vacation spots, he has lately opted for local destinations. This summer Brown will spend a part of his monthlong vacation in the rural Lake District with his children. And while last summer he worked on getting in shape with a personal trainer, this time he's focusing on saving his languishing public image. To that end the prime minister is devoting some time for altruism during his holiday, volunteering for about a week on a community project to "help him get back in touch with his constituents" in Fife, according to an aide. Exactly how Brown will be giving back to the community is not yet known, but there are rumors that he may participate in a local arts workshop for teens. Considering the P.M. has had an unusually stressful 12 months, some newspapers have encouraged him to forget volunteer work and take a proper vacation.
Honcho: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
His spot: relaxation in Sardinia, penance in L'Aquila
If you thought Putin's half-naked poses were inappropriate for a politician, take a look at what his Italian counterpart has been up to this summer. In May, Berlusconi prompted his wife to file for divorce when he attended the birthday party of an 18-year-old underwear model. But that was only the beginning. Throughout the summer, the 72-year-old prime minister has thrown lavish parties at his villa in Sardinia, which is furnished with a cactus garden, an amphitheater, a remote-control waterfall, and an artificial volcano. A Spanish newspaper offered a sneak peek at the extravagance of Villa Certosa when it revealed photos of topless models and a naked former Czech prime minister lounging by Berlusconi's pool. Allegations that Berlusconi used military jets to fly in his guests have only added fuel to the scandal. After an audio recording disclosed intimate conversations between him and an escort, the P.M., who has been nicknamed Il Cavaliere, had to admit that he's "no saint." But it seems the prime minister is aware of his diminishing popularity (his ratings fell below 50 percent for the first time last month); he's spending the rest of the summer away from Sardinia, in L'Aquila, the badly damaged site of an earthquake in April, to supervise construction projects there.
Honcho: Pope Benedict XVI
His spot: Italian Alps
Another leader is vacationing in Italy, but certainly not in the same way as Berlusconi. The 82-year-old Pope Benedict took a 16-day break at Les Combes in the Italian Alps. Spending his days praying and resting, he stayed in a two-story chalet with a mountainous view where other popes have spent their holidays. But his vacation turned ugly when he tripped and broke his wrist looking for a light switch in his bedroom. The next morning he underwent surgery, landing his right arm in a cast. Because of his injury, the pope has had a difficult time working on his second Jesus of Nazareth book, using a tape recorder rather than a pen to forge ahead. After his holiday in northern Italy, the pope traveled to his summer residence, in Castel Gandolfo near Rome. But he was still taking care of papal duties while on his break: he addressed a crowd of pilgrims from the window of his palace on Sunday.