The trip initially planned for March, which was to have been Charles’ first state visit abroad since becoming monarch on the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth II, was shelved due to widespread rioting and strikes across France against pension reforms.
But the original packed itinerary in the capital Paris and the southwestern city of Bordeaux is largely unchanged.
After landing in Paris, the king and his wife Queen Camilla will receive a ceremonial welcome from French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte at the Arc de Triomphe monument in central Paris, where they will lay wreaths to the countries’ war dead.
The Macrons will in the evening host the royal couple at a sumptuous state banquet at Versailles, the palace west of the capital synonymous with French royalty — and the bloody republican revolution of 1789.
The French president, who has dealt with no fewer than four UK premiers over the last half-decade during a period of political turbulence in Britain, is known to have a strong personal rapport with Charles.
The Macrons were at both the state funeral for Elizabeth II last September and Charles’ coronation in May this year.
Many of the engagements on the trip reflect Charles’ lifelong interest in the environment, sustainability and biodiversity, as well as promoting young entrepreneurs and community.
But it is also designed to promote Charles beyond British shores, as he continues his transition from a sometimes outspoken heir to the throne to monarch.
“This is King Charles, who was only just over a year ago still Prince Charles, putting himself on the international stage as a leading public figure,” said Ed Owen, a royal historian and author.
“We know that he’s going to address things including his concerns around climate and environment, so he’s playing to the crowd in that respect, but doing so on his own terms,” he told AFP.
In the last year Charles, 74, has sought to cement his position at home as the new monarch, with an emphasis on continuity rather than radical reform.
As such, there are reminders throughout the visit of the late queen, a French-speaking francophile who made five state visits to France during her record-breaking 70-year reign.
The Arc de Triomphe, at one end of the sweeping Champs-Elysees avenue, was the location for her ceremonial arrival on her last state visit in 2014.
On the first, in 1957, she dined with president Rene Coty in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Charles on Thursday addresses lawmakers in the French Senate, again following in the footsteps of his mother who did the same in 2004.
The queen also spent two days in Bordeaux — a former English possession in the Middle Ages — on a state visit in 1992.
Context is king
Charles’ visit is seen as the “soft power” follow-up to moves by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to reset relations between the two neighbours following tensions sparked by the UK’s exit from the EU.
Macron had a particularly prickly relationship Sunak’s predecessor-but-one Boris Johnson, reportedly describing him as a “clown” as he took the UK out of the European Union in January 2020 in a sea of Union Jack waving and rhetoric of British exceptionalism.
The state visit to France of the young Queen Elizabeth in April 1957 was designed to help repair the damage inflicted by the November 1956 crisis over the Suez Canal, which proved the limits of the UK as a world power.
Nearly 70 years later, London and Paris are keen to demonstrate they have more in common, from history and culture to shared values and goals.
“The speed with which we’ve been able to reinstate this visit, thanks to a huge amount of flexibility on both sides, I think is a testament to how important we both see this,” a senior UK government official told reporters before the visit.