I promised you reviews of country houses in Britain and I will give you reviews of country houses in Britain. But first let me tell you two things: 1. Never go to Stratford-upon-Avon. It is the worst tourist trap I have ever seen (and I broke the UV-filter on my camera). 2. Go to the Peak District and stay at the Alstonefield Manor. Look how cute it is:
Breakfast was great, the village was the perfect English village with no ugly spots to be found, and the nature around it was stunning. And then it was not far from Chatsworth…
Chatsworth was the first country house my friend and I put on our list when planning the trip. It’s sort of the archetypical beautiful country house stunningly placed in the magnificent landscape – and yes that many adjectives are necessary and suitable.
Other reasons for going: it is said to be the model for the mythic Pemberley Hall of Mr Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice (and it was used as the location for Pemberley in the P&P filmed version from 2005); it is the home of the Dukes of Devonshire, making it central in the life of Georgiana Cavendish aka The Duchess; it holds a famous neoclassicist collection of works by Canova and Thorvaldsen (and also works by other famous guys like Rembrandt and Tizian). The last reason being the work related yes-we-are-serious-academics-not-just-out-and-out-romantics-fig leaf of the travelling art historian / archeologist. Ahem.
We arrived via the magnificent grounds driving and driving while getting a feeling of the massiveness of the Devonshires’ wealth just in land (and sheep). Our first encounter with the house itself was at the parking lot where we paid our 2 pounds just for the car and understanding for the first time how these country estates manage to stay spick-and-span through admission fees. The present Duke and Duchess seemed to us some of the most conscious of the possibility of generating business from their estate. I don’t blame them, it is absolutely necessary with these enormous houses and with the taxes put on them, I just say that this was the closest we got to a theme park on our trip: large shops, amble possibilities of wining & dining (of just café-ing), even an ice cream van in the gardens. A bit more choosiness in the goods variety might be a good idea – I mean who cares for silly stuffed animals and ugly plastic toys when you are country-house-crawling? I know I prefer nice books and some related albeit inventive merchandise.
The interiors of the house were suitably grand with the Painted Hall with Laguerre’s paintings of the triumphs of Julius Caesar as a wonderful overture to the rest of the house.
After having explored the house and its art collections we had wonderful high tea in the old stables. Here I am looking quite ecstatic at the sight of a finger sandwich.
And then we had the necessary energy for the garden of which we saw only a small part as we wanted to visit another country house (Haddon Hall) in the afternoon. There are cascades, semi-sublime rock settings, ponds, secret gardens, Japanese corners, fountains, conservatories, vast lawns etc., etc. Suffice to say that you could spend an entire day in that garden and be perfectly content.
Conclusion: Chatsworth is a must if you are in the Peak District. It is all you could dream of when it comes to country house interiors, exteriors and gardens.