CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Celebrating the long-standing ties between their nations, President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande on Monday toured the sweeping Virginia estate of famed Francophile Thomas Jefferson. Obama’s rare out-of-town trip with a foreign leader opened two days of events marking Hollande’s state visit to the United States.

Obama and Hollande arrived in Charlottesville. Va., after a short flight from Washington. Traveling together in Obama’s armored limousine, the presidential motorcade then wound its way through the rolling hills toward the white and brick mansion, with its signature crowning dome.

As the two presidents – both wearing overcoats on a chilly February day – strolled along the estate’s portico, Obama declared, “This is a wonderful visit.”

For Hollande, the trip to Washington was a chance to get an ocean away from his romantic troubles. The French president is traveling in the U.S. without a female companion, following his very public split with longtime partner Valerie Trierweiler.

Their breakup has dominated headlines following a gossip magazine’s revelations about a secret tryst with a French actress. The last-minute change of plans created a tricky situation for American officials planning a high-profile event where diplomatic protocol and etiquette are in the spotlight.

Still, Hollande was receiving a warm welcome reserved only for America’s closest allies. He arrived in Washington Monday and was greeted by Obama at the nearby military base where dignitaries are received. The two leaders then boarded Air Force One for the trip to Virginia, using a smaller version of the presidential plane due to size restrictions at Charlottesville’s airport.


The trip to Monticello was aimed at highlighting the deep ties between the U.S. and France. Jefferson, a Founding Father and former president, was also an early U.S. envoy to France and is honored with a statue on Paris’ Seine River. Monday marks the first time a sitting president has visited Monticello with a current foreign head of state.

The White House, in announcing Monday’s visit, said, “Monticello reflects Jefferson’s affection for the people of France, the long-standing relations between our two democracies, and the shared values we hold dear: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

In public appearances during the state visit, Obama and Hollande are expected to focus on areas where U.S.-French priorities are visibly in sync, such as in efforts to resolve nuclear concerns in Iran, a civil war in Syria and extremism in Africa. Mutual interests such as combating climate change and securing a trade deal between the U.S. and Europe will also be messages the two will seek to highlight.

Hollande’s state visit continues into Tuesday, when he’ll be greeted at the White House with trumpet fanfares and a 21-gun salute.

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