Marvel at Norfolk’s country house heavyweights Holkham, Felbrigg, Blickling, Oxburgh and Houghton.
Escapism of the highest order is on offer at Holkham Hall, a magnificent Palladian-style pile just west of Wells-next-the-Sea. As the imposing seat of the Earls of Leicester looms into view across a 25,000-acre estate, you sense a costume drama coming on. Inside, things get still more evocative – beyond the domed Marble Hall, a series of handsome state rooms adorned with ancient statues, intricate tapestries and priceless paintings by Gainsborough, Van Dyck and Rubens. Back in the grounds, there’s plenty to fill a leisurely day out. Kids will love the Holkham Hall high ropes course (the expert team from Norfolk Adventure ensures they’re in safe hands), there’s an enchanting woodland play area, and boats, canoes and kayaks dot the estate’s mile-long lake, hired by the half-hour or hour.
A similarly arresting sight, Houghton Hall’s Palladian perfection more than rivals Holkham’s. Built in the 1720s for Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister, it’s still in the family today. As stately homes go, it’s also quite progressive, with an annual shindig - Houghton Hall Festival, held in the grounds, and a nice line in contemporary sculpture in the landscaped gardens – now including 21 works by celebrated sculptor Anish Kapoor.
If you like to couple up your country houses with something a little less highbrow, Felbrigg Hall could be for you – a picturesque Jacobean-Georgian hybrid just outside the resort of Cromer, for old-fashioned seaside fun. Or, combine a trip to Norwich for serious shopping (a 50-minute drive) with a poke around Blickling Hall, a seventeenth-century stunner complete with orangery and ornamental gardens. A little further but worth the journey for its film-set appeal, Oxburgh Hall, on the fringes of the Fenlands, is a romantic medieval masterpiece – moat and all.
Image courtesy of visitnorfolk.co.uk