Queen Victoria in Nice

victoria jolly good time w text

In her later years, Queen Victoria loved to spend her winters on the French Riviera. While in Nice, she could let her hair down and enjoy herself, often touring around in a little donkey cart.

 Queen or Spice Girl?

One evening while dining with a British friend and his teenage daughter, we were talking about the British influence in Nice.  Our friend said, “I think the tourism really picked up after Victoria came here”.  His daughter perked up, “Victoria Beckham?”

Afraid Not

queen victoria scottish indian nice

No, the history of British tourism in Nice goes back much further than the Beckhams. In the 1800s the French Riviera had so many British visitors, that the term “English” became synonymous with “tourist”.   And one of the most influential tourists was, of course, Queen Victoria of England, who used the name ‘Lady Balmoral’ while on holiday. (Was this an effort to keep a low profile?)

Vicky Arrives in Style

When the Queen (I mean Lady Balmoral) began to visit Nice, she was 76 years old, short, round and always dressed in black.  She would arrive in her own special train, accompanied by close to 100 staff members.  These included Scottish soldiers wearing kilts and playing bagpipes and Indian soldiers wearing turbans.  The train carried wagon loads of luggage, not counting the Queen’s bed and other furniture which arrived ahead of her and was already set up in the 80 hotel rooms that she rented in the hills of Cimiez. Also sent in advance were her carriages, horses and a donkey… yes, a donkey.

 Vicky Buys a Donkey

Jacquot (pronounced Jacko) was the donkey the Queen bought on one of her holidays in Provence. She had trouble walking and was frustrated because her carriage was too large to take her down the many intriguing alleyways she wanted to explore.  When she saw a peasant with a small cart pulled by a handsome but underfed donkey, she stopped and asked the man how much he had paid for the poor beast.  He responded, “100 francs”.  The Queen said, “I will give you 200”.  The deal was done and travelling behind Jacquot in her little donkey cart became her favourite mode of transportation for short excursions.

queen victoria jacquot donkey

 We can imagine that Jacquot was well fed from then on.  He travelled back and forth between England and France with the Queen and even to other European countries.  He later retired and spent his last days at Windsor.

 Vicky’s Schedule

When in Nice, Victoria would take her full English breakfast (with musical accompaniment) in the hotel garden, weather permitting.  After a few hours of paperwork, she would climb into her donkey cart and tootle around the gardens of Cimiez with Jacquot.  After the garden visits, queen and donkey would return to the hotel for lunch.

Vicky was a “Curious Rambler”

After lunch she ventured out further in a larger carriage pulled by horses.  She would meander through the hills and along the coast, visiting interesting sites and towns in the area.  She stopped to watch games of boules (similar to lawn bowling), attended the gourd festival, the carnival (where she reportedly threw flowers at handsome young soldiers), and attended any other local festivity she happened upon.  She exhibited a curiosity about everything that she encountered.

English: Statue of Queen Victoria in the distr...
English: Statue of Queen Victoria in the district of Cimiez in Nice, France. Français : Monument à la reine Victoria dans le quartier de Cimiez à Nice (France). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vicky Had a Soft Spot for Nice

Victoria had wintered in other areas along the Riviera, but once she discovered Nice she kept returning.  She spent 5 successive winters in Nice, from 1895-1899.  The following winter she had to forgo her Nice holiday because of the controversy surrounding the British actions in the Boer Wars. Then the next year, in 1901, while wintering on the Isle of Wight she took ill and died.  It is reported that she said, “If only I was in Nice, I would get better”.

Vicky Remembered

The Queen is commemorated in Nice with a statue in front of the Hotel Regina-Excelsior in Cimiez where she stayed.  There is also “Avenue Reine Victoria” named for her in the area where she used to ride in her donkey cart in Cimiez.

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Find Out More – You can read more about the history of Nice in my book, Curious Histories of Nice, France.

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Margo Lestz


    1. Yes,travel certainly has changed. You know, I remember my grandfather telling me that when their family went on holiday, his mother insisted on taking her bed. And they were far from being royalty. They would put her bed up in a pickup truck and drive across the country. Personally, I prefer to travel with one little rolling suitcase – less hassles. 😉

  1. Ah – Victoria R… or B? (chuckle) makes me feel my age!
    Fascinating article of facts and anecdotes, some of which are new to me.

      1. Absolutely 20 in many ways, however reference to Victoria veers more immediately towards Regina than Beckham. We spent a month in Nice recently and learned something about Q Victoria’s visits up there in Cimiez. (How glorious the summer Jazz festival must be in the wonderful setting of the parkland.

  2. I knew “Vicky” used to stay in Cimiez (and I’ve seen a plaque mentioning a stay at the château de Gourdon too) but I had no idea just how “light” she travelled, she certainly must have been very inconspicuous as Lady Balmoral!!! You must have had fun researching this Margo, it’s full of such great anecdotes. Thanks for linking it to #AllAboutFrance

    1. Thanks Phoebe! The idea of packing light hadn’t yet been invented in her day. And there is nothing like having a few of the comforts of home on your holiday!

  3. I always love these adorable anecdotes! You have one my favorite blogs on the #AllAboutFrance link-up because your posts are super interesting and about things I didn’t know! Thanks for posting!

  4. Another of your wonderful historical accounts – Jacquot’s owner, no doubt was better fed after selling Jacquot too and I love the fact Lady B took her bed with her. I have a dodgy back and dread sleeping in other beds which so easily can aggravate it. Would that I could have mine at all times! #AllAboutFrance

  5. I know the feeling. I do much better in my own bed too. I just can’t seem to get my servants to put it in my private train car for me… 😉

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