As I walked through the streets of Aix-les-Bains, a French spa town, I was surprised to find a Union flag flying proudly next to a red telephone booth and a bust of Queen Victoria . It seems that she holds a special place in the hearts of the inhabitants.
And this is no wonder. Thanks to Victoria’s sponsorship, 19e-th century Aix-les-Bains became the “English spa town”, where the European elite ostensibly came for spa treatments, but really to play and have business.
But the queen, then in her cunning and in mourning for her Scottish valet John Brown, was instead drawn to the alpine landscape and the peaceful shores of Lac du Bourget, France’s largest natural lake.
“Savoy, like Scotland, seems a country steeped in history,” she wrote in her diary. “The beautiful Bourget Lake reminds me of Loch Lomond, with a mountain range on either side and the tallest and most imposing peaks covered in snow.”
Encouraged by her daughter Beatrice, whose arthritis was treated by the avant-garde city doctor Léon Brachet, Victoria came three times, in 1885, 1887 and 1890. She finally transferred her favors to Nice, arguing with the Savoyards for a right of way problem on the land she had bought. But Aix remained in fashion, competing more than the French Riviera as a playground for the rich and famous until a sad decline after WWII.