Inside Villa La Grange, the exquisite Swiss mansion where Putin and Biden met for today's summit

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Villa La Grange - Getty
Villa La Grange - Getty

It would be nice to think that both Biden and Putin, arguably the world’s two most influential living presidents, will have spent a moment mulling over the words Pope Paul VI spoke on his visit to Villa La Grange in Geneva in 1969.

During an open-air mass, attended by 70,000 people in the villa’s Parc La Grange, which sweeps down to Lake Geneva and is now the city’s largest park, he said ‘let us strive to be generous peacemakers’ and pointed out that ‘peace is not a weakness, but a strength’.

Putin and Biden in Geneva - Getty
Putin and Biden in Geneva - Getty

Today’s summit at the grand villa, which has been hosted by Swiss President Guy Parmelin and involved both private conversations between the two presidents with just interpreters in attendance as well as sessions with additional delegates, could still be going on by the time you read this. But only if things are going well.

The estate in which Villa La Grange sits was created in the 1660s by merchant Jacques Francois. Banker Marc Lullin bought it from him in 1706 and in the 1760s three of his sons built the French-style mansion that stands today, as the family summer residence.

Losing everything during the French Revolution, the Lullins sold the estate in 1800 to Francois Favre, a Geneva ship owner who made his fortune trading with the East. It was the Favre family who added many of the impressive flourishes you will find today – from the monumental, lion-flanked entrance on the Quai Gustave-Ador, the pergola, the orangery and library, the considerable contents of which descendent William Fevre bequeathed to the City of Geneva, along with the rest of the estate, in 1917.

 Inside the Villa La Grange - Getty
Inside the Villa La Grange - Getty

Besides welcoming the Pope, it has hosted some key events over the centuries, including the closing gala event for the officials who signed the 1864 Geneva Convention, which focussed on providing support and protection for victims of armed conflict.

Today, the three-story classical mansion, with its series of grand public rooms downstairs and bedrooms upstairs, has never looked better, especially after a thorough spruce in the run up to the arrival of Biden and Putin, with chandeliers dusted, upholstery deep cleaned and gold stucco plasterwork retouched.

After passing through the main gates earlier today, flanked by those stone lions, which have certainly seen the pressure hose in the past few days, both presidents were greeted by President Parmelin and walked inside.

A painter adding finishing touches to ornamental decorations on June 11 - Getty
A painter adding finishing touches to ornamental decorations on June 11 - Getty

The main action has taken place in the villa’s famous library (how very ‘Cluedo’), where two wooden chairs upholstered with intricate embroideries were waiting for the pair, against a backdrop of Fevre’s collection of more than 12,000 books which line every wall of the room and span history, literature and ancient languages, some of which date back to the 15th century.

While it would be fun to imagine the Bidens and Vladimir Putin bedding down there for the night, bumping into each other in their bathrobes sneaking downstairs for midnight snacks, you can’t stay at Villa La Grange, it’s pretty much ‘functions only’.

The surrounding park, on the other hand, is one of the city’s best-loved picnic spots, although it has been closed since June 8 for security and will not re-open until June 18, for security reasons.

A room at the Villa La Grange - Getty
A room at the Villa La Grange - Getty

As it happens, Putin didn’t need anywhere to stay. We know little about his movements except that he flew in this morning and is expected to fly home tonight.

The Bidens, on the other hand, who flew into Geneva Airport aboard US Air force One for this, the last stop on their overseas tour, are staying at the classic-contemporary InterContinental Geneva, across the water in the peaceful diplomatic district (although it’s had a fleet of armoured vehicles parked outside for the last couple of days).

 InterContinental  - Getty
InterContinental - Getty

While the hotel won’t confirm which room they’re in, the Bidens are likely to have checked into the hotel’s top floor Presidential Residence, by New York interior designer Tony Chi.

The president, an ex-lifeguard and keen swimmer, should appreciate the hotel’s outdoor pool – the largest hotel pool in the city, which sits within a rather lovely lush garden, although sorry, Joe, skinny dipping isn’t allowed.

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