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Stourhead, Wiltshire

Decline and fall, renaissances, wars, conflict pass over Italy like fleeting clouds because its global brand is a country of peerless places. It was always thus. When the 18th-century Wiltshire banker, Richard Colt Hoare lost his young wife, he sought redemption in Italy, visiting its ruins and places as diverse as the Tuscan isle of Elba and Isernia in Molise.

Once back in southern England he attempted to re-create the spirit of this journey in the coombe close to his austere country house at Stourton. Working with landscape architects, he devised an idyllic paradise. The faux temples dotted in this dreamy lake-land hideaway are straight out of baroque masterpieces. Since the Second World War in National Trust care, it now attracts half a million visitors a year. Few English places in deep winter are as evocative of southern climes, as its visitor statistics demonstrate.

Stourhead Gardens, Wiltshire, late winter

Colt Hoare was no ordinary banker. He set out to understand his home county, Wiltshire, and was amongst the first to celebrate its greatest antiquity, Stonehenge. Far from the Mediterranean, his home and its garden never disappoint. Italy may be challenged but its spirit has been and remains eternal.

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