Stourhead, nestled between Warminster and Shaftesbury in the heart of the Wiltshire countryside, is a majestic Palladian house and landscaped garden. When it was first opened to the public in 1740, a magazine of the time called it "a living work of art". Today it has achieved world-renown for the grand sweeping garden, which features classical temples and several grottoes beside a reflective lake, and a wonderful art and antique collection inside the house.
When Henry Hoare, a rich banker, bought the estate in 1717 he demolished the original medieval manor that sat here. He then set about building a new house that would be a statement of his wealth and would show off his fashionable taste. Palladian style architecture was much in vogue at the time, and Stourhead became one of the first houses in England to adopt this trend.
Today the rooms are full to the brim with grand artworks and magnificent furnishings collected by generations of the family from England and abroad. From bespoke Thomas Chippendale furniture and the exquisite Pope's Cabinet, to classical paintings such as Poussin's Choice of Hercules, the house is a treasure trove of art, history and heritage.
The jewel in the crown at Stourhead, however, lies beyond the house walls. With 1,072 hectares of land dotted with rare and exotic trees and classical temples, the ground's splendour is like something out of a Jane Austen novel. Ancient woodlands and conifer forests, all managed for wildlife, give way to a magnificent lake adorned with its own noble Pantheon, which is modelled on the Pantheon in Rome. The view of this temple reflected in the waters across the lake has become an iconic image of Stourhead and one of the National Trust's most photographed sites.
Here you can soak up the fantastic views and relax on picnic-perfect lawns. For the romantic wanderer, there are five great estate walks to choose from where mystical grottoes reveal themselves under a canopy of green leaves. Dogs on short leads are welcome - after 4pm (March to October), after 3pm (November) and at any time during the winter (December to February) - making Stourhead the perfect destination for those accompanied by their four-legged friends.
A popular attraction during summer, Stourhead can be just as majestic in the colder months. Winter brings scenes of frosted wonderlands and snow-covered lakes that glitter in the pale winter sun. Visitors can warm themselves by a roaring fire and enjoy board games in the Entrance Room, or get a glimpse of 18th century Christmas past with "The Christmas House" in which selected rooms are bedecked to celebrate the season. In autumn, the changing colours of the leaves on the garden's deciduous trees create dazzling displays of burnished golds, yellows and reds, while spring is awash with newly emerged greenery and colourful blooms including magnolia, rhododendron, camellia and daffodils.
Whatever time of year, Stourhead is a must for family days out, leisurely strolls, or anyone looking to enjoy a classical slice of British heritage.
To find out more about Stourhead, including opening times and admission prices, please visit the National Trust website.
Photograph: Mark Christopher Cooper/Shutterstock.com