The jewel in the Stourhead crown has to be the world-famous 18th-century landscape garden. A magnificent lake shimmering with reflections of classical temples, mystical grottoes and rare and exotic trees. Secrets of the Hoare family history are revealed at Stourhead House (orginally the family holiday home!) with the chance to discover the unique Regency library, collections of Chippendale furniture and inspirational paintings, all set amid ‘picnic perfect’ lawns and parkland. The lake and house are at the heart of a 1,072-hectare (2,650-acre) estate where chalk downs, ancient woods and farmland are managed for people and wildlife to enjoy.
A short stroll from Stourhead House, lying in secluded privacy in the adjacent valley, is one of the finest landscape gardens in the world, quite often referred to as ‘Paradise’. Stourhead garden was created by Henry Hoare II in the 1740s. The River Stour was dammed to form a great lake. Around the lake Hoare laid out a landscape garden to entrance his guests with stunning views and pacify them with serene walking pleasure. As the garden developed, he added classical features, such as the Temple of Flora, the Pantheon, the Temple of Apollo and Gothic ruins to enhance the series of splendid and unexpected vistas. Such was the accomplishment of this wondrous garden that Henry Hoare II became known as ‘Henry the Magnificent’. Hoare’s successors cherished his brilliant original conception, while enriching it with new planting. Today, Stourhead is essentially the same as Henry II’s vision – a self-contained and timeless masterpiece.
Stourhead garden changes with the light levels and position of the sun. The Pantheon may catch your eye one minute; then as the sun emerges from behind a cloud, the tulip tree on the island is bathed in light, followed by the Temple of Apollo. The view from the Pantheon looks back toward the Temple of Flora, the Palladian bridge and the ancient parish church of St Peter’s, set remarkably against a panoramic bank of exotic trees. The cavalcade of breathtaking vistas from around the garden surprise, inspire and enamour you, in a way that would make Henry Hoare II a proud man. For his garden has matured, and grown into the living work of art he sought to create nearly three centuries ago.