Day One - Travel to our hotel
We join the coach and head to our first hotel where we stay for three nights.
Day Two - Max Gate & Hardy’s Cottage
Our first visit takes us to the outskirts of Dorchester and the atmospheric Victorian house Max Gate, designed by Thomas Hardy in 1885 and where he lived until his death in 1928. Hardy wrote some of his most famous novels here including Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. We enjoy an introductory talk before exploring the house and garden which remains much as it was in Hardy’s day.
We then travel the short distance to Thomas Hardy’s birthplace, Hardy’s Cottage. Little altered since the Hardy family left, this handsome cob and thatch cottage is surrounded by a typical cottage garden of honeysuckle, climbing roses and japonica, and is where Hardy wrote some of his early poetry and novels including Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd.
Day Three - Athelhampton House & Kingston Lacy
This morning we travel to Athelhampton House, a splendid manor house dating back to the 15th century. Thomas Hardy’s father was a stonemason and worked on the restoration of the Great Hall and the West Wing. It was during this time that Thomas Hardy, who was a regular visitor, painted a watercolour of the house. Today, Athelhampton plays host to historic furnishings, wood-panelled rooms and stained glass windows. Outside is a superb example of a 19th-century Italianate garden with yew pyramids.
In the afternoon we visit Kingston Lacy, the family seat of the influential Bankes family. Built in 1665 and remodelled extensively in the 19th century, this striking Italianate house plays host to lavish interiors and is renowned for the collections of antiquities and artwork on display.
Day Four - Ferry to the Isle of Wight, Ryde & Quarr Abbey*
After the short ferry crossing to the Isle of Wight, we pay a visit to the historic seaside town of Ryde, the largest town on the island with a wealth of boutique shops to explore and sandy beaches to enjoy. On our September and October tours we will also be able to pay a visit to Quarr Abbey, home to a small number of Benedictine monks and set on a beautiful historic estate.
Later, we check in to our hotel on the island, our base for the next four nights.
Day Five - Osborne House
With the popular ITV drama Victoria recently on our screens, we have the chance to explore Queen Victoria’s one-time residence on the island, Osborne House. Built as a holiday home in the late 1840s, the Italianate palace boasts spectacular views across the Solent. We take an intimate glimpse of royal family life as we wander through the magnificent Royal Apartments as well as the walled gardens and grounds where we find the charming Swiss Cottage, used by the royal children to learn household management.
Day Six - Dimbola Lodge, Mottistone Gardens & Ventnor Botanic Garden
This morning, we take a scenic drive via the Needles to Dimbola Lodge, home of the celebrated Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. After our introductory talk, we have time to explore the house which is now a Museum and Gallery dedicated to her life and work. Dimbola Lodge also showcases contemporary exhibitions from photographers around the globe.
We continue on to Mottistone Gardens, one of the most peaceful and magical gardens on the island, surrounding an attractive Elizabethan manor house. Established in the early 20th century, the garden is set in a sheltered valley and is rich in colourful herbaceous borders, shrub-filled banks and grassy terraces. The National Trust is experimenting with a Mediterranean-style planting scheme here, taking advantage of the garden’s southerly location.
We could easily be mistaken for being transported to a country in the Mediterranean when we end our day at Ventnor Botanic Garden. Founded in 1970 by Sir Harold Hillier, the garden is home to an impressive collection of rare, subtropical and exotic plants, thanks largely to the remarkable microclimate on the south coast of the island.
Day Seven - Newtown Old Town Hall & Cowes
We journey to Newtown Old Town Hall this morning, a 17th-century town hall with no town! Newtown was once the capital of the Isle of Wight, and the hall was built to reflect the town's status. Newtown lost its importance, and the town dwindled to a peaceful village, but the brick hall survives as a reminder of Newtown's past.
The afternoon is spent at leisure in Cowes, home to the world-famous regatta that swells the local population each August. Many of the town’s ornate buildings date from Queen Victoria’s time, in the style popularised by her consort Prince Albert. As well as some upmarket shops, Cowes also has numerous art galleries.
Day Eight - Return home
We check out of our hotel and catch the ferry back to the mainland, before continuing our journey home.
*Please note: Quarr Abbey is only available to visit in September and October. For May and June departures, we will visit Nunwell House. The excursion order may be subject to change.