Princess Diana is reputed to have dismissed the Riviera as a "vulgar" place where she couldn't possibly have lived and she visited it very rarely. This was not at all the opinion of her husband's great-great-great grandmother Queen Victoria. In the last two decades of her life, after emerging from her prolonged years of mourning for Prince Albert, she spent a total of nearly twelve months in "this beautiful country I so love". She moved between Menton, Cannes, Grasse, Hyères and especially Nice or, more precisely, what writing during her last visit she called "dear Cimiez".
In his Queen Victoria and the Discovery of the Riviera (UK: I.B. Tauris) Michael Nelson offers "a well-researched and highly readable account of the Sovereign's love affair with the South of France". That's what I wrote when I reviewed the title on its first appearance in 2001. That this outstanding contribution to what might be called "Anglo-Riviera history" has taken so long to get into paperback only confirms the widespread view that I.B. Tauris is an interesting publisher with a somewhat lethargic management. Anyway, it's a great book which deserves a wide readership. Victoria emerges as a rather more complex character than suggested by those standard portraits of a grim granny in Nice she even once took part in a bout of flower throwing! Her enthusiasm for the Riviera didn't extend, by the way, to Monaco where, driven through, she noted, "very nasty disreputable-looking people walking about". She finally took to drawing the curtains in her carriage once into the Principality.
Titles reviewed here can be obtained at local English bookshops
From Riviera Reporter 123, Oct/Nov 2007