26 MARCH 2008

The finest claret had been brought up from the royal cellars, the Queen had checked the flower arrangements in the guest room at Windsor Castle and the Blues And Royals regiment had completed the dress rehearsal for its procession through Windsor. Everything was in place ahead of the first state visit by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and his new wife Carla Bruni, which got underway on Wednesday.

After being met upon their arrival at Heathrow airport by Prince Charles and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall, the couple began their two-day trip - dubbed by some political commentators as "the most exciting state visit in British history" by joining the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh for a horse-drawn carriage ride through Windsor to the Castle.

Prior to their trip Mr Sarkozy and his glamorous model wife underwent a crash course in royal protocol. And, determined to rise to her biggest challenge to date as France's new First Lady, Carla has apparently been practicing a court curtsy.

The formal welcome completed, the Sarkozys will lunch in the Castle while their possessions are taken to Suite 240, a luxurious gothic room with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a drawing room with stunning views across the grounds.

Later in the day the French premier will address the Houses of Parliament and meet with key political figures. The high point of the visit is Wednesday evening's white tie state banquet in St George's Hall – the centrepiece of Windsor Castle's state apartments.

The royal chef has been working on a secret menu for months. It will be served at a special 170-foot-long mahogany dinner table and - although the French president doesn't drink anything stronger than orange juice - be accompanied by vintage wines served 19th-century Garter crystal glasses.

Photo: ©
At the start of their two-day trip - dubbed by political commentators as "the most exciting state visit in history" - the couple were met at Heathrow by Prince Charles and the Duchess of CornwallPhoto: © PAClick on photos for gallery
Photo: ©
Before making the historic trip, both the French premier and his new wife underwent a crash course in royal protocolPhoto: © PA
Photo: ©
After lunching with his royal host on Wednesday Mr Sarkozy will drive into London to address the Houses of ParliamentPhoto: © PA
Photo: ©
The couple arrived at the Castle in a horse-drawn carriage after proceeding through the streets of Windsor with the Queen and Prince Philip. The journey was carefully rehearsed the previous day (above)Photo: © PA