He may not even be married yet, but the Italian media were already speculating on Tuesday that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had booked into a Italian country hotel for a honeymoon with former model Carla Bruni.
While Sarkozy's office remained silent on a report that the celebrity couple had wed privately last Thursday, Italian media said they were set to have a honeymoon in the village of Negrar near Verona, the setting of William Shakespeare's romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet.
News websites said Sarkozy and the Italian singer Bruni had booked rooms at La Magioca, a small hotel in the Valpolicella wine producing area of northeastern Italy, and that they could arrive as soon as Tuesday evening.
When contacted by Reuters, a member of staff said the manager was not available and hung up the telephone.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said he was not aware of Sarkozy having wed and mocked reporters' speculation.
"Thursday's timetable was not very compatible with your rumours," Fillon told a news conference. "It was a busy day."
The regional daily L'Est Republicain said Sarkozy and Bruni married at the Elysee presidential palace last Thursday, the same day Sarkozy hosted Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero there.
Asked whether he was aware of the president's marriage or whether he had been asked, Fillon said: "The answer is no.
Sarkozy, 52, who divorced his second wife Cecilia in October, said last week that his relationship with the 40-year-old Bruni was "serious", but declined to be drawn on a possible wedding date.
"There's a good chance you'll find out about it when it's already happened," he said.
A French opinion poll released on Tuesday showed that Sarkozy's popularity had fallen sharply for a second successive month, apparently because of dissatisfaction with his flamboyant lifestyle and economic policies.
The BVA-Orange-Express poll for January said only 45 percent of those questioned had a positive opinion of their president, down 6 points from December, while 48 percent had a negative opinion.
The potential honeymoon hotel, which media are staking out, is a converted country house whose website promises discretion.
"Looking for quiet? You'll find the utmost tranquillity. Looking for privacy? You'll find an apartment with a perfect small living room and bedroom. Looking for a suite? You'll find the Magioca Suite with bathroom, fireplace and a four poster bed. Life is beautiful ..."
The reports -- none of which had solid sourcing -- said the couple might arrive later on Tuesday. Sarkozy was due to return to Paris from a visit to Saudi Arabia and Qatar on Tuesday evening for a cabinet meeting scheduled for Wednesday.
One Italian news website said that, if they were not yet married, they might tie the knot in a church in the hotel's private grounds.
Failing that, Sarkozy has received an invitation to marry in Syria. Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddine Hassoun, the senior government-appointed religious official, said such a step would help boost mutual respect between Europe and the Middle East.
"I asked him to come to Syria so that he can marry his girlfriend in Syria and she becomes his wife," he said in a speech to the European Parliament. Earlier this month France suspended diplomatic dialogue with Damascus because of Syria's involvement in Lebanon. ( Reuters )