East Cowes, England
Osbourne House East Cowes Reviews
Solid half day out with a good mix of culture, history, family and fun! May 06, 2016
Do not judge a book by its cover. And tell yourself the old adage again and again when you visit the Osbourne House. It's by far the most visited historic location on the island (2nd most overall, behind the Needles) but there was a whiff of skepticism as I sauntered in - entrance fees were around 17 quid and I was praying it was all well worth it.
Initially, I wasn't getting it. Between an overwhelming map and an English Heritage Trust member trying to get me to sign on to their annual membership and get me to buy some English wine, I wasn't so sure I'd made the right decision.
But things soon changed for the better.
A quick walk past manicured lawns and pebbled carparks to the main House and I lived to savour every minute that followed.
Quick history lesson from Wikipedia - Osborne House is a former royal residence in East Cowes. The house was built between 1845 and 1851 for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as a summer home and rural retreat. An earlier smaller house on the site was demolished to make way for a new and far larger house, though the original entrance portico survives as the main gateway to the walled garden.
So now you know you can expect a whole of pomp, splendour and art in a house that was a holiday home. And yes, it lives to the reputation. For starters, there are staff in nearly every room of the house, and are both extremely friendly and knowledgeable. There is a set "path" for the tour so you don't just meander into any room, but somewhere I ended up taking the lift instead of the stairs and so I lost the plot. So the guide had to bring me back to where I was and i followed the "path" (follow the blue velvet rope!). The rooms, corridors, just about everything was dotted with paintings both Albert and Victoria acquired from various parts of the world, some as gifts and some as property (bought). Everything seemed larger than life - there were candelabras that were as colourful as Caribbean parrots, rooms were coloured bright yellow, infact there was Albert's mancave as well. Yes! There are bright flamboyant dining rooms, living rooms, bedrooms and even the children's nursery. Queen Victoria apparently was a painter herself, and one can view 2-3 of her artwork. Quite impressive.
The highlight though was aptly saved till the end - the Durbar Room built for state functions. An homage to the Indian era, this room is completely Indian. The carpet is from Agra, it was designed a Sikh warrior (and the corridors leading to it has portraits of several sardars). The room also displays the gifts received by the Queen at various occasions (like silver and golden jubilee) and a very intricate Ganesha motif. This room has to be the showstopper...and as "tacky" as it may appear on 1st sight, is extremely intricate and detailed.
But this isn't all!
There's a brilliant garden reminiscent of the French and Italian style of kaleidoscope plantations.
Entrance to the site gets you attraction to the beach, the Swiss Cottage and a walled garden. The garden was rather bare (understandable as it's been a cold start of spring in Europe). The Swiss cottage however was interesting. Apparently Prince Edward had collected so many gifts he decided to build a museum at the sight of the cottage to display them. Work continued after his death on the insistence of Queen Victoria and today is a mammoth collection of just about every knick knack in the world including the smallest pair of scissors in the world! I met a very interesting staff member with whom I talked just about everything under the sun (being Indian, being Zambian, living in the US, etc.).
I stopped by the coffee shop for some awful coffee but some very good conversation with a German settled in England. Between her and this gentleman, they gave me tips on what to do for the rest of my stay on the island.
I couldn't believe I overstayed here - so much that it was past 430p so I dropped plans of visiting Carisbrooke Castle.
So once again, please do visit. Don't think of this as a place that's stood several world wars and is history-rich. No, it's a celebration. Celebration of wealth, celebration of the summer and celebration of the British Empire. Unashamedly so. And more importantly, well deservedly so!
Part of the England (Isle of Wight) travel blog
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