The lozenge-shaped ISLE OF WIGHT has begun to shake off its old-fashioned image and attract a younger, livelier crowd, with a couple of major annual rock festivals and a scattering of fashionable hotels. Despite measuring less than 23 miles at its widest point, the island packs in a surprising variety of landscapes and coastal scenery. Its beaches have long attracted holiday-makers, and the island was a favourite of such eminent Victorians as Tennyson, Dickens, Swinburne, Julia Margaret Cameron and Queen Victoria herself, who made Osborne House, near Cowes, her permanent home after Albert died.
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The only place of interest in East Cowes is Queen Victoria’s family home, Osborne House, signposted one mile southeast of town. The house was built in the late 1840s by Prince Albert and Thomas Cubitt in the style of an Italianate villa, with balconies and large terraces overlooking the landscaped gardens towards the Solent. The state rooms, used for entertaining visiting dignitaries, exude formality as one would expect, while the private apartments feel homely in a manner appropriate to an affluent family holiday residence that Osborne was. Following Albert’s death, the desolate Victoria spent much of her time here, and it’s where she eventually died in 1901. Since then, according to her wishes, the house has remained virtually unaltered, allowing an intimate glimpse into Victoria’s family life.