Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Waddesdon Manor and Garden, Buckinghamshire


A popular tour when visiting the south of England is to Waddesdon Manor near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild created Waddesdon Manor in 1874. His love of France and French art is instantly obvious by the startling sight, confronted by first time visitors to Waddesdon, of an extravagantly turreted chateau in the French Renaissance style sitting on a hilltop in rural Buckinghamshire. However it is not only the exterior of Waddesdon Manor that is stunning. The Rothschilds were the greatest collectors of the 19th century and inside the house you can see one of the finest collections of French 18th century decorative arts in the world.
Going round the house you get a glimpse of a way of life most of us can only dream of. Waddesdon was always intended as a venue to entertain and give pleasure to friends during ‘Saturday to Monday’ parties. Highlights of which would be tours of the house and the garden both of which reflect the personality of the Baron and his penchant for gimmicks and novelties. The number of rooms open to the public is one of the best things about visiting this house. Unlike some stately homes where you can only visit 3 or 4 rooms, at Waddesdon you can really let the imagination run riot and entertain thoughts of how it would be to be a guest of Baron Ferdinand as large parts of the house are open to view The only disappointment, to my mind, is that there are no kitchens open as I always find the kitchens a fascinating part of the history of a house.
You really do need a full day to visit Waddesdon Manor because as well as the house, which takes a good two hours plus to do justice there are many features to view outdoors. When Baron Rothschild arrived at Waddesdon the site was totally bare, in his own words, “There was not a bush to be seen, nor was there a bird to be heard” This is hard to believe now as six years later it had been completely transformed. Although a French Landscape architect, Elie Laine, helped him in the layout of the hard landscaping many of the planting schemes were designed by Ferdinand. This results in an intriguing mixture of French formality and English romantic parkland. On arriving at Waddesdon, as you walk up the hill toward the Manor, carefully sited gaps in the planting reveal glimpses of the lovely Buckinghamshire countryside. Even in the garden Ferdinand’s love of object d’art is reflected in his collection of sculptures, which are placed throughout the garden. Ferdinand built the cast iron Aviary before 1889 to house his collection of exotic birds, from all over the world, including ibises, flamingos and African cranes. This Aviary was restored in 2003 and now houses a breeding pair of Rothschild Mynahs, a species that became extinct in the wild as recently as 2004.
No visit to Waddesdon would be complete with a visit to the Stables restaurant, which boasts a menu, which is not vast but includes a regularly changing selection of well-cooked meals.
As well as all this, Waddesdon also host special monthly events such as a Fine Food and Wine fare in May where 25 producers from across the country sell the highest quality food, wines and spirits in the Old Coach House at the Stables. There are regular wine tasting days where Waddesdon’s own Master of Wine uses 6 wines to introduce guests to the pleasure of wine tasting. For those hardy enough to get up for a 6.30 a.m. start there are regular early morning wildlife walks where you can enjoy a peaceful walk through the grounds looking for Waddesdon Wildlife before returning to the Manor Restaurant for breakfast.
Waddesdon Manor is a gem and well worth a visit if touring England in the area around Buckinghamshire.

Susan Robson provides catered accommodation and personal tours to stately homes and gardens in the south central area of England. (www.hopecottagetours.co.uk)

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