VATICAN CITY, JULY 15, 2005 ( Benedict XVI is writing a book during his vacation in the Italian Alps, says Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

The archbishop of Genoa lunched Tuesday with the Holy Father in his chalet in the village of Les Combes, in the Val d'Aosta region.

The Pope is "in the best form, rested and serene. The mountain air and splendid scenery is agreeing with him," the cardinal told the Italian newspaper Avvenire.

Cardinal Bertone, who for seven years was secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) was its prefect, commented on the Pope's vacation schedule.

Vacation studies

"He celebrates Mass at 7:30 a.m., and remains in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, prays the liturgy of the Divine Office, and then has breakfast," said the cardinal.

"Later, he begins to read, to write and to study," continued the cardinal. "Lunch is around 1 p.m.

"Then, in the afternoon, he has a rest and afterward walks on a nearby mountain, 1,800 meters [5,900 feet] high, during which he prays the rosary. At the end of the day, he has dinner, prays, and then goes to rest."

During the hours of work, the Pope "examines documents, studies, and continues to write a book," he said.

Asked if the book is an encyclical, the first of his pontificate, Cardinal Bertone was discreet: "For the time being, let's say it's a book."

Great walker

The cardinal said the Pope relaxes when playing the piano, but admitted that he did not hear him play on the day of his visit.

The archbishop added that Benedict XVI "is not a sportsman, as his predecessor, but he is a great walker. Perhaps he goes on fewer outings, but more walks."

The Holy Father, who is staying in the same chalet as John Paul II did for years, will be on holiday in the Italian Alps until July 28.