Queen Victoria discovering the French Riviera


It was in the spring of 1882 that Queen Victoria visited the French Riviera for the first time. She had previously visited Paris with her husband Prince Albert. However, his death prompted her to enter a long period of mourning and it was many years before she revisited France.

Queen Victoria had never travelled outside Europe, and had never visited any country of her Empire. In fact, Queen Victoria had seen very little of England where she was known as the “Great Unknown”. One of the main reasons that brought Queen Victoria to the French Riviera was medical. The shores of the Mediterranean were a very popular destination for the sick and invalid. Queen Victoria stayed with her son Prince Leopold who suffered from haemophilia.

The Queen traveled in the royal train under the pseudonym of Countess of Balmoral. For her first destination on the French Riviera she had chosen Menton where a friend had borrowed her his house. She left Windsor Station on March 14th and 2 days later her train arrived in the the South of France.

Le Chalet des Rosiers on the hills of Menton was the perfect place to stay. From here Queen Victoria explored the beautiful countryside in her carriage. She visited La Turbie and the beautiful gardens of Villa Hanbury. She very much loved to visit Bordighera on the nearby Italian Riviera. The Queen also took a ride to Monaco one day, but would completely disapprove. She considered the Casino in Monte Carlo as a threat to health.

One of her favorite places was the private garden of Dr Bennett. It was thanks to this English Doctor that Menton had become famous as a health resort. His book “Winter and Spring on the Shores of the Mediterranean” had quickly become a bestseller in England and Germany. Floods of people suffering of tuberculosis started to come to the Riviera.  An edition of the book was also published in New York in 1870. From then on also the Americans found their way to Menton in increasing number. It was thanks to the book and Dr Bennett’s advice that the Queen too had chosen to come to Menton.

While on the Riviera, Queen Victoria enjoyed meeting other European Royalties. Among them was her cousin King Leopold of Belgium and her grand-son Wilhelm II, the Emperor of Germany. For them the Riviera had quickly become a holiday destination and not just a convalescent center.

While on the Riviera, Queen Victoria enjoyed meeting other European Royalties. Among them was her cousin King Leopold of Belgium and her grand-son Wilhelm II, the Emperor of Germany. For them the Riviera had quickly become a holiday destination and not just a convalescent center.

She will stay one time in Cannes, then in Grasse, one time in Hyères and 5 times in Nice.

Nice will become her favorite place on the Riviera. Each time her royal train arrived at the Station of Nice, she will receive an enthusiastic welcome by the Governor of the city, a band played “God save the Queen” and the people waved their handkerchiefs and applauded.

Nice will even build a completely new Hotel for Victoria on the hills of Cimiez, the Excelsior Hotel Regina. From here she will explore the beautiful back country of the region. She particularly loved Falicon,  Gourdon and Tourrettes sur Loup, she participated in local festivities and did not only mix with other royalties, but also with fisher wives and even beggars which made her very human.

The Grandmother of Europe was one of the most beloved visitors of the end of the 19th century. It was thanks to her that many travelers will come from Great Britain to visit the French Riviera and it was also thanks to her that the relationship between England and France improved. When she was dying in January 1901 she said: “Oh, if only I were at Nice, I should recover”.

Nice has erected a beautiful monument to Queen Victoria’s honour. It stands right in front of the ancient Hotel where she used to stay. It is an allegory showing her surrounded by 4 young girls making offerings. The girls represent the cities of Menton, Cannes, Grasse and Nice, her 4 favorite towns.