CHATSWORTH, Bakewell, DE45 1PP
Chatsworth is the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire, known as 'the Palace of the Peak'. It's a treasure house of art from all over the world, set in 'Capability' Brown's glorious landscaped parkland, and is one of Britain's best-loved and most-visited stately homes. A favourite backdrop for film-makers, the gilded Palladian west front is instantly recognizable to millions. Towards the end of the 17th century, William Cavendish, the 4th Earl of Devonshire, soon to be the 1st Duke, decided his Elizabethan mansion, built by the legendary Bess of Hardwick, needed a radical new look. For a while he tinkered with alterations, but finally knocked everything down and started again. Demolishing one great historic house to build another might seem an odd investment of a lifetime, but in those days great families were judged by their homes and gardens. The Chatsworth that rose from the rubble was in the then-fashionable classic Palladian style, to the duke's own design, with advice from Thomas Archer. It took about 30 years to complete and set the seal on his new status. The irony is that he never saw it at its best. Great houses needed great gardens and grounds, and these took decades to establish. In the middle of the 18th century, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown and James Paine laid the foundations of what we see today by changing the course of the River Derwent, moving roads, building bridges and setting out the woodland vistas. The house is bursting with great art in the most superb settings; the Painted Hall is a work of art in itself, with huge, swirling scenes from the life of Julius Caesar by Louis Laguerre on the ceiling and upper walls. Another engaging feature is the trompe l'oeil painting of a violin on the inner door of the Music Room. There are no less than 17 staircases in the house, but the Grand Staircase leads to the first Duke's state rooms on the second floor. The 6th Duke - known as the Bachelor Duke because he never married - thought the state rooms all 'useless display' and wanted to make bedrooms out of them. But these were never rooms for relaxed living; they display the awesome wealth and power of the Cavendishes, with superb carved panelling, lavishly painted ceilings and priceless objects at every turn. The chapel looks just as it did three centuries ago; the library, once the Long Gallery, took shape in the 1830s, and prepares you for the enormous dining room - like an outpost of Buckingham Palace - and the sixth Duke's Sculpture Gallery, an assembly of beautiful neo-classical marble figures. The real secret of Chatsworth is surely in its glorious setting. Around it are superb formal gardens and the fine Emperor fountain, created for a visit by the Tsar of Russia who ironically, never arrived. This is a view the first Duke never saw, and could only have dreamed about. The current 12th Duke of Devonshire and his wife are keen patrons of the arts, so don't be surprised to come across some strikingly modern sculptures by artists like Damian Hurst and Anthony Gormley in the formal landscaped gardens.
8m N of Matlock off B6012. 16m from M1 junct 29, signed via Chesterfield, follow brown tourist signs