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Queen Victoria by Bassano.jpgNear the end of her life, Queen Victoria visited Nice several times.

Nice-Matin reported recently on the Grandmother of Europe‘s trips to the city. Their article brought several interesting details to light.

The Niçois were honoured to welcome the monarch, who travelled as Lady Balmoral. After all, Victoria ruled over nearly one-quarter of the world’s population.

Contrary to the popular image of a morose woman, she was known locally for her engaging personality. She is said to have attended village fêtes, enjoyed an occasional glass of wine, visited museums, toured the old quarter of the city and befriended the Catholic priests, the Pénitents Rouges, who still have a community and the Saint-Suaire chapel in the old city where one can attend Latin Mass each Sunday. (The chapel is so named — suaire means perspiration — because it housed the shroud of Turin for many years.)

By 1895, she was visiting the city so frequently that the great and the good of Nice decided she needed her own private residence.

If that sounds over the top, bear in mind that she travelled with a grand entourage, among whom was her Scottish companion Mr Brown. Approximately 70 people travelled with her, including a dozen Bengal Lancers, her personal bodyguards. You can imagine how much luggage they had.

Plans were drawn up for construction of a palace for the Queen. The Excelsior Regina was built in the hilly and pleasant Cimiez district, north of the city centre.

The noted architect Biasini was in charge of the residence located on the Boulevard de Cimiez. The first stone was laid in 1896. He and everyone else involved hoped to complete the building by the time Queen Victoria visited later in the year. In the event, the Regina was unfinished and she stayed at the Grand Hotel that autumn.

In 1897, everything was ready. Victoria stayed at the Regina three times: 1897, 1898 and 1899. No expense was spared. Biasini included much decorative detail in his design, including a grand marble staircase. He also installed a private lift, a new luxury at the time. The building had six storeys and an ample garden where the Royal entourage could enjoy tennis and croquet. The Queen had all of the west wing to herself: 70 rooms. Surrounded by palm trees, it was soon known as the most fashionable place on the Côte d’Azur.

After Victoria’s death, the Regina Excelsior became a residence for other royal families visiting Nice and for commoners able to afford the prices! The rooms were subsequently converted into luxury flats. One of the gardens still has a marble statue of the Queen.

Queen Victoria’s last visit to Nice was to have been in 1901. However, she died on January 22 that year. On her deathbed she said:

If only I were in Nice, I would get better.

Today, Nice still has an Avenue Reine Victoria and a Victoria Pavillion complete with statue at the Cimiez Hospital.

Even though she took tea only if one of her own attendants prepared it rather than a local, the people of Nice considered Victoria their favourite monarch.

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