French President Emmanuel Macron's choice of venue for his birthday could feed into perceptions of him as a "president of the rich"
Paris (AFP) - French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday celebrated his birthday at the iconic chateau of King Francois I, a choice denounced by critics as an example of how he is "cut off from the people".
Macron, who turns 40 on Thursday, is spending the weekend with his wife Brigitte and extended family at the chateau of Chambord in France's Loire Valley, local French newspaper La Nouvelle Republique reported.
With its fairy tale facade, elaborately turreted roofline and vast grounds, Chambord is probably the valley's best-known Renaissance chateau, located about 200 kilometres (125 miles) southwest of Paris.
Macron and his family will stay at one of the cottages on the vast estate, French media said, with a birthday gala to be held Saturday evening in one of the castle's 440 rooms.
The estate has several four-star guest houses which can be rented for 800 to 1,000 euros ($950 to $1,200) per weekend.
The Elysee Palace said Macron and his wife were using private funds to pay for their stay.
But the choice of venue was criticised by several French politicians.
"Why is he celebrating his birthday at Chambord?" asked radical-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, quoted in the newspaper Le Figaro.
"What a strange idea! I am so republican that everything about royal symbols exasperates me, I find it ridiculous," he said.
"While the French suffer from taxes, insecurity, immigration, Macron celebrates his 40th birthday at Chambord," right-wing politician Nicolas Dupont-Aignan said on Twitter.
"Eras go by but the oligarchy remains cut off from the people," he said.
- The 'pharaonic' president -
Commissioned nearly 500 years ago by King Francois I (1494-1547), the immense chateau remains the largest of the Loire grand estates, boasting 365 chimneys and a 5,500-hectare (21-square mile) estate.
It also has boasts the largest enclosed forest park in Europe, a long-time favourite for presidential hunts.
The chateau, which attracts some two million visitors each year, has been listed as a regional UNESCO World Heritage cultural site.
Macron, a media darling during his campaign, has seen his image as a monarchical or even "pharaonic" leader climb from the night of his election, which featured a theatrical production at the foot of the Louvre pyramid in Paris.
Several newspapers have also expressed unease over the growing concentration of power in the presidency, and critics have said his use of executive orders to ram through landmark reform in September did not help matters.
In July, the cover of the left-wing Liberation newspaper mockingly depicted him as Jupiter, the Roman king of gods, and accused him of failing to share power -- an accusation echoed by Le Monde daily.
Jupiter is now regularly used by Macron's critics who accuse his centrist government of favouring the rich.
- Brigitte visits 'godbear' -
On Saturday, the president also visited Beauval Zoo, home to France's first panda cub, which Brigitte baptised -- becoming the fluffy bear's "godmother" -- earlier in the month.
Macron, his wife and several relatives went to the zoo in the Loir-et-Cher region after having lunch at a restaurant in nearby village Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher, an AFP correspondent said.
Brigitte, in one of her most high-profile outings since her husband's election, cooed over the male cub at a ceremony on December 4 before a Chinese minister unveiled his name as Yuan Meng, which means "making a dream come true" in Chinese.
The French first lady became "godmother" during the event, along with her Chinese counterpart Peng Liyuan.
There male cub was the first ever born in France where its mother has been on loan from China since 2012, as part of Beijing's "panda diplomacy".