Stourhead – Stourton, Wiltshire, England

A Walk Through a Classical Painting

Inspired by the paintings of Claude Lorrain and Gaspard Poussin, Stourhead is arguably England’s most fabled garden, and one that has long elicited superlatives. It is the most celebrated example of 18th-century English landscape gardening, confirmation that no country holds a candle to England’s horticul­tural expertise.

Stourhead’s poetic vistas and landscapes punctuated with architectural highlights such as a neoclassical Pantheon, a grotto, and temples built to Flora and Apollo create a classical effect that is the finest of its genre in England, the prototype much mimicked around the world in private and public gardens alike. The 18th-century Palladian-inspired house, whose beautiful interior is also open to the public, was the home of a wealthy local banking family. “Henry the Magnificent” Hoare, inspired by a Grand Tour of the Mediterranean, decided to relandscape his estate’s 100-acre grounds upon his return home. Although Stourhead is a garden for all seasons, perhaps among its most romantic walks would be one in early fall along the footpaths that wind around a chain of small manmade lakes, or in summer when its famous dells of rhododendrons and camellias are in full bloom.

Within strolling distance of the gardens’ main gate, the Spread Eagle Inn is a local institution, known for its Sunday lunches and leisurely dinners of simple, traditional cooking. Better yet, stop by on your way into the gardens: the inn packs a great box lunch for a picnic on the bucolic grounds, in a shady corner of your choice.

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