The Isle of Wight has long been a favourite haunt of the royal family – William and Kate are believed to have enjoyed a secret mini-honeymoon here just after their wedding in 2011 and in 2008, tenth in line to the throne, Peter Phillips chose Cowes for his stag weekend, enthusiastically attended by his cousins ‘Wills’ and ‘Hazza’.
But one of the Island’s greatest royal fans was Queen Victoria who declared that “It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot”. In 1845 she commissioned her beloved Prince Albert to build this magnificent seaside palace for their family as a country retreat. From the twin Italianate towers to the newly restored walled garden, every detail is a visual delight. Even the miniature Swiss Cottage (built to teach the royal children the art of household management) enchants, with its nine individual vegetable plots and personalised wheelbarrows.
Inside the house itself, you can tour both the private rooms of Victoria and Albert as well as the magnificent Royal Apartments with their sumptuous drawing and dining rooms, including the richly decorated Indian-inspired Durbar Room.
If royal history and Victoriana doesn’t appeal, head outside and enjoy the stunning views from the terrace across the Solent â€“ said to remind Prince Albert of the bay of Naples. Or take a horse and carriage ride round the grounds, spot rare red squirrels amongst the stunning array of unusual plants, enjoy a summer picnic in the wild flower meadow or sample the gourmet food served in the Terrace Restaurant.
And this summer for the first time, Osborne House will be opening Queen Victoriaâ€™s private beach and celebrating with a week of family-themed fun. Laugh out loud at an authentic reproduction of an 1850s’ Punch and Judy show, challenge the family to a mini-golf tournament or have a go at the hoopla-stall. Activities run daily, but may vary throughout the week so check their website for details.
In December you can experience an authentic Victorian Christmas (albeit one held in a royal household!). Try out traditional side-show games and take a ride on an original Victorian carousel. Jolly on-site entertainers include the Singing Chimney Sweeps. You might even meet Father Christmas himself and Queen Victoria as you tour the festively dressed rooms of Osborne House.
Best known as the place where King Charles I was imprisoned during the English Civil War, Carisbrooke Castle is exceptionally well preserved for a castle that has lived through more than 800 years of service, including resisting a siege by the French and seeing off the Spanish Armada. The most recent royal resident was Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, who made Carisbrooke Castle her summer home in 1914. The Edwardian-style Princess Beatrice Garden, designed by TV and radio gardening presenter Chris Beardshaw, was inspired by the princess, and includes a fountain and plantings in the rich colours of the royal arms.
But the castle’s most beloved modern residents are undoubtedly the renowned Carisbrooke donkeys, all named after the letter J (Jill, Jack, Jigsaw, Jimbob etc). This tradition began when Charles I was prisoner at Carisbrooke because whenever he was planning his escape route, he always signed his letters with a â€˜Jâ€™. The donkeys still operate the 16th century tread wheel in the Elizabethan wheelhouse to raise water 49 metres (161 feet) from the castle well. There are regular daily demonstrations – although you may have to queue at peak times (but it’s worth the wait!).
There is a well thought-out calendar of events for families that are well-organised and well-attended. These range from authentic tournament displays, medieval-themed activities and archery competitions to Halloween tours and seasonal craft-making.
The on-site Carisbrooke Museum provides fascinating historical information about the castle, with plenty of visual displays and Charles I memorabilia. A scale model castle shows you how it would have looked in ancient times and you can try out some of the chain mail armour (surprisingly heavy!) and examine original weapons.
A wonderful English Heritage shop sells a great selection of locally sourced Isle of Wight products and Charles I-themed memorabilia, including wooden swords, model catapults, Princess hats, children’s knight costumes and a variety of books, jams, chocolates and other edible goodies.
There’s also a lovely tea room selling baguettes, cakes and liquid refreshments. Free parking for up to 100 cars is located around 50m from the castle.