One hundred and forty years ago, Penzance was selected by librettist William Gilbert as the soporific town where so little happened that pirates were unthinkable. The result was the Gilbert and Sullivan hit The Pirates of Penzance. In the 21st century, many Cornwall towns remain fairly peaceful, but Carbis Bay is set to get a rude awakening in June this year when hordes of police and security teams, administrators, officials and politicians descend upon it for the latest G7 summit.
There is certainly precedent for such coastal summits, which may help explain the choice of Carbis Bay. And so long is the list of global seaside hotels to boast of honoured political guests that there is little danger of the UK disappointing its guests with its choice of venue, the Carbis Bay Hotel. And this is before taking into account the personal predilections of our prime minister, whose affinity with Neptune’s kingdom and unadulterated sand was demonstrated by his early-2020 voyage to Mustique.
A Caribbean destination is not hard to understand on the part of our prime minister, as the vistae of the West Indies are hard to match. Many hotels in the region are perennial favourites with politicians. The Round Hill Hotel in Jamaica is a stand-out example, and in its nigh-on 70-year history guests have included the likes of John and Jackie Kennedy, and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Ralph Lauren himself styled the 36 oceanfront guestrooms, and with such a heritage of guests it’s easy to see why this is still a hot destination.
There are a number of leading hotels closer to home which have found favour with politicians in recent years. France held the 2011 G20 in Cannes, in the same conference centre which hosts the annual film festival (the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès). Not surprisingly, dignitaries were catered for in one of the hotels which is immensely popular with stars of the screen every year and is a stone’s throw from the convention centre, the InterContinental Carlton Hotel. Needless to say, there are many luxurious hotels in Cannes which prove popular with the global elite, but the 343-room Carlton (complete with a splendid façade and golden sand private beach) has the greatest political heritage. Besides the G20, the 11 decades-old hotel hosted the 1924 League of Nations Conference.
The 2017 G7 was also held on the Mediterranean, this time overlooking the Ionian Sea from the rocky outcrop of Taormina, Sicily. There is something mythical when overlooking the wine-dark sea from an Italian coast and it’s not hard to imagine Botticelli’s Venus emerging from the waves. Taormina’s ruins certainly get you in the right frame of mind with the well-preserved third-century BC theatre offering a splendid view of the sea. The hotel of choice in this part of the world is the Ashbee Hotel. English in origin (it was commissioned by an English colonel and designed by one of his fellow countrymen), it is not completely out of place on an island which is replete with evidence of an extraordinary variety of civilisations over the years.
Sicily has also been the destination of choice for the clandestine Google Camp since it was set up in 2012. Rocco Forte’s Verdura Resort has been taken over by the company annual- ly to create a forum for lively discussions as well as a chance to enjoy the resort’s location and facilities. It is the brainchild of company co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and rivals events like Davos and Bilderberg, attracting big-hitting names from Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Washington and more. Verdura offers everything you would expect from a de- luxe hotel, from a choice of golf courses to day trips to towns and villages for the sampling of local food and wine. It’s not everywhere, though, that you can jump on a helicopter to visit Mount Etna on the other side of an island.
Verdura also offers its guests itineraries behind the wheel of a Porsche, and one of the most stunning attractions to visit in this way is Unesco’s world heritage site at Agrigento, just over 30 miles away. But no one can hope to experience the Valley of the Temples as guests at the Google Camp have done. Supposedly the Verdura was specifically selected for its proximity to these Greek ruins, and such reasoning was explained in a 2019 pho- to which showed guests banqueting while being serenaded by Coldplay frontman Chris Martin in the Temple of Hera.
The most recent G7 summit was hosted by France, who this time opted for Biarritz and the Atlantic coast. There the grand Hôtel du Palais is an icon of the Biarritz coastline and was sure- ly a missed opportunity when Agatha Christie failed to set a novel there. Emmanuel Macron was a notable host in 2019 when he surprised the watching world by presenting the Iranian foreign minister. This is not something likely to happen this year, amid suggestions Boris John- son will bid for an increase in the group’s numbers by three. The Hôtel du Palais, which was originally built for the Empress Eugénie (wife of Napoleon III), has been very popular with European royalty over the years, and its place in British history was secured in 1908 when frequent patron Edward VII invited Herbert Asquith to form a government, in the only such “kissing hands” to have occurred outside the British Isles.
The UK government will hope that this year’s G7 will be a bit more than a footnote in British history, with action, not words, required on major topics like the continuing battle against coronavirus and climate change. The role of climate change on the agenda was perhaps a significant contributing reason for the selection of a small Cornwall village hotel. The 125-acre estate (including 25 acres of well-curated beach) was declared Eco Hotel of the Year in 2019 and is found in the same county as the Eden Project and the UK’s first geothermal and lithium extraction. Leaving aside for one moment the proposed Cumbria coal mine, Cornwall can be touted as evidence the UK is marching towards a climate-friendly future.
We can surely expect all the usual trappings of such a gathering of political leaders, including red carpets galore and an array of smiling photos (perhaps even against a postcard perfect background if the weather gods view the summit favourably). Serious discussions about geopolitical issues will be held and many claims of great progress will be made, although in truth how much will be accomplished very much remains to be seen.
Regrettably, it’s hard to imagine leaders throwing themselves into the water sports Carbis Bay can offer, nor is the prospect of a Chris Martin concert likely. Not that Ursula von der Leyen would enjoy a Coldplay party with Boris Johnson much anyway. But we know Angela Merkel is a Wagner lover, so perhaps a performance of Tristan und Isolde in the actual kingdom of Mark of Cornwall would go down well? The Pirates of Penzance would be another geographically appropriate option. Perhaps even the classically educated prime minister could take on the part of the modern major general.