Prince Albert told an Italian newspaper, "I don't understand all these rumors, which hurt me, about us"
Summer is over and school is starting — in Monaco, there's just time enough to enjoy the traditional "U Cavagnetu" picnic.
After a summer break, Monaco's royal family attended the Principality's annual "Picnic Basket" event on Saturday. Dating back to 1931, the popular open-air "End of Summer/Welcome Back" tradition combines elements of a colorful festival and a garden party. Featuring a mass, costumed musicians and Palladian dancers as well as an aperitif toast and arrays of local foods, this year's edition attracted over 1,000 Monegasques to Princess Antoinette Park.
"It's a fun event, a really nice moment of the year," Prince Albert of Monaco told PEOPLE last year, describing the picnic's return after a two-year absence.
Held beneath a grove of olive trees with barbecue and ice cream served, "It's just a great, very informal, setting," Albert, 65, said. "The mass, which opens it up is a little formal, but then it goes right into a picnic and there's a little cocktail party atmosphere. It's just wonderful to be able to walk around and have 'tell me about your summer-type conversations" with people you know."
Accompanying Princess Charlene and Prince Albert were their 8-year-old twins, Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella. The family was also joined by Prince Albert's niece Charlotte Casiraghi, her husband Dimitri Rassam and their children.
The royal picnic break arrived at the end of a long back-to-business week, which included at least four joint appearances for Prince Albert and Princess Charlene.
The annual weekend event coincided with the publication of a new interview in which Prince Albert personally denounced renewed reports of a marital rift as "lies."
Split reports were published in Geman, English and French tabloids while the family was away from Monaco for summer vacation. Appearing during the "private time" period traditionally reserved for a family vacation (a prolonged August sail off Corsica this year), the stories are similar to those that palace officials formally denied to PEOPLE last March.
Speaking to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra, the Prince addressed the persistent rumors — including allegations that Princess Charlene left Monaco and moved to Switzerland — categorizing them as baseless.
"Charlene is always by my side," Prince Albert told the outlet, highlighting their shared appearances since returning from their family holiday. Detailing a mix of diplomatic, charity, social and sports functions, he said, "We received the new French ambassador to Monaco together on Tuesday at the palace. We were together at the Casino Square for the Princess of Monaco Cup golf competition."
"I don't understand all these rumors, which hurt me, about us," he said. "That, she lives elsewhere. Lives in Switzerland. That we meet only by appointment. They're lies."
Charlene, he continued, "had some difficulties many months ago but now thank goodness she's over it and is always by my side. She supports me in leading the Principality, but we're not attached to each other 24 hours a day. We're a working couple and sometimes that only allows us to see each other at the end of a long day full of appointments."
While Princess Gabriella had a return to the royal spotlight last weekend, accompanying her father to a sports tournament, the picnic marked the family's first ensemble appearance. It was also the first official public appearance in months for Hereditary Prince Jacques.
The picnic has been on the twins' schedules since infancy, appearing most years dressed in coordinating outfits and back-to-school haircuts (sometimes performed by Princess Gabriella). But after a growth spurt, the young prince is now a half-head taller than his twin sister!
Prince Albert had a few words for the Italian newspaper about the royal twins, saying they remain inseparable. Jacques "is still small, only 8 years old, but in a couple of years, I will start preparing him for his responsibilities. Jacques and also Gabriella are being readied – you can't separate the two twins, you can't make any distinction."
His plans for Gabriella, he continued, "are essentially the same ones I have for Jacques."
"She will have the same attention and training, and just as many responsibilities," Prince Albert said. "There is a role for her too in the Monaco of tomorrow."
He continued, "And brother Jacques will need her. She will take on responsibilities, just as I have always relied on my sisters, Caroline and Stephanie. I can't do everything. The commitments in a royal family must be divided up."
Asked to reflect on the one anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's death, Prince Albert recalled that he and Princess Charlene attended the history-making monarch's state funeral and King Charles' coronation. He suggested, "When it comes to kings and princes, it's like the army with generals with stars. I can't compare myself to King Charles."
"I was in London at Prince Philip's memorial too," he continued. "And I was touched by the perfect ceremonies, by the crowds. I believe monarchies offer a sense of belonging and a point of reference — a beacon of stability in a fast-changing world. And a long-term vision of the future. As sovereigns, we have a long-term vision, not the short mandates of politics."
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Both Prince Albert and Princess Charlene stayed late this year at the Monaco picnic. There was dancing, jazz music, Monagasque focaccia (flatbread with herbs) and chickpea crepes. Mostly, one attendee comments, "It was the opportunity for the couple to be among dozens of friends before the start of another busy week."
This week will include the first day of school for Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella before Prince Albert and Princess Charlene depart for South Africa next weekend.
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