Close to the village of Stourton lies one of Wiltshire's most breathtaking sights—Stourhead, a country-house-and-garden combination that has few parallels for beauty anywhere in Europe. Most of Stourhead was built between 1721 and 1725 by the wealthy banker Henry Hoare, more colorfully known as Henry the Magnificent. A fire gutted the center of the house in 1902, but it was reconstructed with only a few differences. Many rooms in the Palladian mansion contain Chinese and French porcelain, and some have furniture by Chippendale. The elegant Regency library and picture gallery were built for the cultural enrichment of this cultivated family. Still, the house takes second place to the adjacent gardens designed by Henry Hoare II, which are the most celebrated example of the English 18th-century taste for "natural" landscaping. Temples, grottoes, follies, and bridges have been placed among shrubs, trees, and flowers to make the grounds look like a three-dimensional oil painting. A walk
around the artificial lake (1½ miles) reveals changing vistas that conjure up the 17th-century landscapes of Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin; walk counterclockwise for the best views. The best time to visit is early summer, when the massive banks of rhododendrons are in full bloom, or mid-October for autumn color, but the gardens are beautiful at any time of year. You can get a fine view of the surrounding area from Alfred's Tower, a 1772 folly (a structure built for picturesque effect). A restaurant and plant shop are on the grounds. All in all, it's easy to spend half a day here. To tie in with the WWI centennial commemorations, a new property-wide exhibit tells "Harry's Story," about the son of the last private owner, one of the many soldiers who died in the conflict.