We check in to the Highcliff Marriott Hotel in the afternoon. Later, we enjoy a welcome drinks reception hosted by our tour manager followed by a three-course evening meal.
Monday: Minterne Gardens & Deans Court
Our day starts at Minterne Gardens, a stunning Himalayan garden laid out in a horseshoe below historic Minterne House and landscaped in the manner of Capability Brown. Minterne hosts a world renowned and completely unique collection of Himalayan Rhododendrons and Azaleas, with spring bulbs, cherries, maples and many fine rare trees. The gardens boast many other picturesque features to stroll around including small lakes, waterfalls and streams.
We continue on to Deans Court, an elegant house boasting fine Georgian facades situated in beautiful, romantic gardens. The oldest section of the house was part of the Saxon monastery in Wimborne, founded in 705AD and we will learn more on our guided tour. The house has been in the same family for nearly 500 years so make sure to admire the ancestral portraits which showcase the heritage of this fascinating property. We will also enjoy a cream tea during our visit.
In the evening we enjoy a three-course dinner and an interesting themed talk from a guest speaker.
Tuesday: Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens & Athelhampton House
Today begins at Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens. Following a major restoration project, this beautiful garden has many new exotic and unusual flowers. From the viewpoint at the top of the Magnolia Walk you can also take in stunning views of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast. We also enjoy lunch here.
Next we visit Athelhampton House, a splendid manor house dating back to the 15th century, where we enjoy a guided tour. The Great Hall at the heart of the house is a fine example of Tudor architecture with its linenfold panelling, heraldic stained glass, large fireplace and historic furnishings. Other notable rooms include the panelled Great Chamber, Library, State Bedrooms filled with period furnishings and artwork and a Wine Cellar. Outside is a superb example of a 19th-century Italianate garden with yew pyramids.
This evening, we enjoy a three-course dinner back at the hotel.
Wednesday: Lulworth Castle & Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum
This morning we venture to Lulworth Castle, set at the heart of a large country estate in the south Dorset countryside. Built in the early 17th century as a hunting lodge, the castle’s history includes being seized by the Roundheads during the English Civil War and being used as a residence-in-exile for the surviving members of the French Royal Family following the French Revolution. The castle was gutted by a disastrous fire in 1929 but has been completely restored by English Heritage, returning the exterior to its former glory and consolidating the interior to reveal the many stories of its past. Here we’ll enjoy a fascinating introductory talk over tea and coffee.
Later we head to the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, situated on Bournemouth’s cliff top overlooking the sea. Former home of Sir Merton and Lady Annie Russell-Cotes, this exotic Victorian seaside villa celebrates the couple’s passion for art and travel, showcasing their remarkable collections and world class art in a unique setting. The house and Edwardian galleries were gifted to the people of Bournemouth in 1908, creating a veritable time capsule. Highlights include the exquisite Main Hall with high Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite art, the Alhambra Palace-inspired Moorish Alcove and the world-renowned Japanese collection.
We return to our hotel for a three-course dinner.