When I was 20, I bought an extravagant hat. I had been unduly influenced by advice to purchase clothes for the life I wanted to lead, in order to motivate choices that would bring these aspirations to fruition. I dreamed of touring palaces and castles in France and England, and my new hat was perfect for a stroll among the statues in the Jardin des Tuileries beside the Louvre, or amid the blooms of any great English castle garden. 

Alas, decades have passed and the funds to enable this extensive tour never materialized. Now, however, there are other options available. Instead of enduring days of stressful travel and throngs of annoying tourists, I can recline on my sofa and visit these destinations through the magic of the World Wide Web, something that had not even been invented when I made my fanciful millinery purchase.

There are several options available for virtual visits to some of the world’s most iconic castles: one can take private video tours guided by experts, or with the click of a mouse wander at will among rooms filled with sparkling treasures.

In honour of May’s holiday, Victoria Day, let’s begin with Buckingham Palace. Although the Palace (then known as Buckingham House) was acquired in 1763 by King George III, it became the monarch’s official London residence in 1837, with the accession of Queen Victoria. You can view this and the other royal palaces through the online exhibits of The Royal Collection Trust and watch videos or read about the rooms and the items they contain. 

Through the Discover (More) menu option you can access “videos, activities and trails that highlight fascinating objects in the Royal Collection and give historical insights into royal palaces.” Included here is “Highlights of Buckingham Palace,” while under the Exhibition (Collections) menu option you will find the exhibition for “Queen Victoria’s Palace.” 

If you prefer a less interactive approach and are a fan of antiques, I highly recommend Ashley Hicks’s YouTube videos featuring the stunning interiors of Buckingham Palace. The flamboyant Hicks is a designer and photographer and also a member of the extended Royal Family (grandson of Lord Mountbatten and 3X great-grandson of Queen Victoria). His access to the Palace combined with his personal narration of its historical objects make these three hour-long videos a visual feast. His book on the subject is on my wish-list.

Skipping across the Channel to France, a visit to the Louvre is a must. Beginning as a medieval fortress, the Louvre was converted to a palace, which became the primary residence of French kings in 1546 during the reign of Francis I. The Louvre became a venue to display the royal collection when Louis XIV moved the royal household to the Palace of Versailles in 1682. Renovated extensively over hundreds of years, today the Louvre is the world’s largest museum.

The Palace selection from the main Explore webpage allows access to the various galleries, each with photos, videos and descriptions. The Napoleon III apartments from the 1860s, and the 18th century period rooms present objects in context. The ability to access additional information provided by experts was a distinct advantage of my virtual visit, as I spent much more time with the Louvre’s most famous object — the Mona Lisa — than I ever would have been able to in-person. The only downside to my experience was that some of the English videos were not accessible, so I was forced to rely on my mostly forgotten university French. However, this did lend authenticity to my sojourn in France!

Lest you feel I am neglecting my own country, I direct you to the online exhibits of Craigdarroch Castle, in Victoria, BC. Of course, this is not a royal palace, but rather the Victorian mansion of the wealthy Dunsmuir family. The collections and online presence of this “castle” are much smaller than the English or French palaces discussed previously, making a virtual visit here more manageable. However, the interiors and objects are still opulent, and the stained glass windows are worth the visit.

I am not the first or only person to have their sight-seeing plans thwarted. Even England’s George IV was forced to become an armchair traveller, when his father prohibited overseas journeys in order to protect the precious heir to the throne. So, instead of lamenting the lack of my Grand Tour, now I can find a cozy seat, don my chapeau, and travel virtually whenever I wish. Besides avoiding prohibitive costs and travel-induced anxiety, there are additional benefits. I can spend as much or as little time as I like in a particular exhibit, without boring my companions or insulting the tour guides. My favourite tea is always at hand and I have just as much chance of bumping into the Queen.

This article was originally printed in THE BERGEN NEWS and is being reprinted with permission.

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