France's Macron takes four-day break but shrugs off 'exhaustion' reports

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday dismissed reports he was suffering from exhaustion, greeting passersby in the Normandy port of Honfleur where he took an unusual four-day break ahead of a hectic week of World War One commemorations.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a media conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 29, 2018. Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

The 40-year old, who has pursued a grueling work routine and travel schedule since his election last year, stoked speculation when he cleared his diary to take days off over the All Saints Day bank holiday.

Wearing a brown bomber jacket and wrapped in a gray scarf, a smiling Macron shook hands and took selfies with members of the public outside a restaurant in the picturesque northern French port where he had lunch with his wife Brigitte.

“As the general (Charles de Gaulle) used to say, it’s always good to know how I’m doing by reading the press,” Macron told reporters.

“Everything’s all right, don’t worry,” he said, adding cheerfully when asked whether he was tired: “Do I look like I am? So, don’t worry.”

In the first year of his term, Macron visited 27 countries, spending 68 days outside France, 10 more than his predecessor Francois Hollande and 14 more than Nicolas Sarkozy.

His aides and ministers said it is not unusual to receive texts from the former investment banker at 3 am and he is often seen online on his favorite Telegram messaging app in the early hours of the morning.

The French leader, whose popularity has fallen as low as 21 percent according to a YouGov poll for CNews published on Thursday, has also had to deal with a political scandal over the summer as well as a series of ministerial resignations that forced a cabinet reshuffle.

“There’s no bout of fatigue, but yes, he’s managing his efforts,” a source at the Elysee Palace told Reuters earlier this week, pointing to the following week’s hectic schedule.

On Sunday, Macron will start a so-called seven-day “wander” across 11 French northeastern provinces ravaged by World War One battles, which ended 100 years ago this month.

On Friday, he will host British Prime Minister Theresa May in the northern town of Albert, before laying a wreath at the memorial in Thiepval, commemorating British soldiers who died in the Battle of the Somme and have no known graves.

Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Richard Balmforth