Balmoral: Why the Queen's favourite residence is beloved by the Royal Family

Queen Victoria called Balmoral "a paradise in the Highlands," and it's easy to see why! "All seemed to breathe freedom and peace, and to make one forget the world and its sad turmoils," she famously wrote in her diary on arriving at the Scottish retreat.

The magnificent estate, set amid mountains, lochs and glens, held a special place for the late monarch – just as it does for the present Queen and her family.

Victoria and her husband Prince Albert first visited the Highlands in 1842, and were so struck they resolved to return.

TAP TO VIEW GALLERYBalmoral Queen Victoria called Balmoral a "paradise in the Highlands"

In 1852 Albert formally purchased Balmoral property for his wife. The original house was deemed "small but pretty", which led to the commission of Balmoral Castle. Unlike other properties such as Buckingham Palace, it is privately owned.

Ever since, the Scottish holiday home has become a firm favourite with the royal family. The Queen and Prince Philip regularly spend two months a year at Balmoral, with other members of the family including Prince William and Kate dropping in for summer visits.

Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II The Queen and Prince Philip regularly spend two months a year at Balmoral

William and Kate have spent some of their most romantic times at the residence, staying at a cottage called Tam-na-Ghar during their breaks from St Andrews University. The Prince also surprised his then-girlfriend in 2009, arranging a candle-lit dinner in a remote log cabin on the banks of the River Dee.

A year later, Kate's parents Carole and Michael Middleton were guests of Prince Charles at his mansion on the estate, Birkhall. It was a sign that William and Kate's relationship was becoming even more serious – days later their engagement was announced.

Queen Elizabeth and her family on the lawn of Balmoral "I think Granny is the most happy there," said Princess Eugenie

Balmoral's romantic qualities have struck a chord with Prince Charles too. He chose to honeymoon at the castle when he married Princess Diana, and again when he wed the Duchess of Cornwall.

Something in the air means the Queen and her family can truly relax and be themselves, living in complete privacy. It's quite usual for visitors to see Prince Philip grilling sausages over a barbeque or Her Majesty washing up; Margaret Thatcher was so baffled by the monarch's habit of washing up with bare hands, she sent her a pair of gloves.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip Even official engagements like the Braemar Games take on a much more fun aspect

The convivial atmosphere makes for a relaxing stay for guests. Picnics, home cinema evenings, games and bracing walks are laid on.

Even official engagements like the Braemar Games take on a much more fun aspect north of the border. The Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Charles are always pictured having a laugh as they watch the annual tug-of-war and the sack race.

Prince Charles and his two sons William and Harry in 1997 Prince Charles with his sons Princes William and Harry pictured in 1997

"Walks, picnics, dogs – a lot of dogs, there's always dogs – and people coming in and out all the time. It's a lovely base for Granny and Grandpa, for us to come and see them up there; where you just have room to breathe and run," Princess Eugenie revealed earlier this year during an appearance on ITV's Our Queen At Ninety.

"It's the most beautiful place on earth," she added. "I think Granny is the most happy there. I think she really, really loves the Highlands."

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