Longleat in Wiltshire, was the first stately home open to the public, and is regarded as one of the best examples of Elizabethan architecture in England.

It was completed in 1580 by Sir John Thynne, but modernised in the 19th century by the 2nd Marquess.

The grounds were shaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, who is arguably England’s greatest landscape designer.

Marvel at the Longleat murals

Current owner Lord Bath explains why he decorated Longleat in a series of murals: “After training as an art student, I preferred the idea of spending a lifetime compiling the decor within this extensive suite of rooms, than to seek gallery exhibitions where I might sell my work.

“The murals form an extensive sequence within [the one] wing of the house, and might be likened to keyhole glimpses into my psyche.

My purpose is to contribute a feeling of ornate decoration within a 20th-century style to the ceilings within my own private apartments, that will complement the weighty 19th-century decor over on the other side, in a manner that will unify the two wings of the house into an integrated spirit.”

Visit Longleat’s drive-through safari park

The estate contains the only drive-through safari park outside of Africa. It was established in 1966 with the concept of the animals roaming freely within the 36 square kilometre park, while visitors are trapped in their cars.

During 1.5-hour safari,you’ll  encounter a menagerie, including puerile monkeys, fluorescent flamingos, unperturbed zebras, vile vultures and a shaggy, rather moth eaten looking Bactrian camel.

But the highlight of the drive is the giraffes, will crowd around your car, crook their long necks and poke their noses through the window with animalistic curiosity.

Swapthe car for a boat, chug along a waterway and wave to Nico, the silverback gorilla,  slouches by his hut on the water’s edge. 

It’s no Serengeti, but until Africa’s plains beckon, Longleat satisfies the animal lover  quite nicely.

What you need to know about visiting Longleat

When to go Spring to autumn is the best time to enjoy the animals
Getting there Longleat is near Warminster in Wiltshire, a 2.5-hour drive from London. By train: take the London Paddington to Penzance service to Westbury station, then it’s about 8km by taxi.
Going out A pint of beer costs £2.80.
Accommodation Camping in the area costs from £11 in low season, while hotel rooms start at £35 per night.
See longleat.co.uk.
Cost A passport ticket costs £24, includes one visit to each attraction and is valid for a year. A safari bus costs £6 extra if you have no car.

Words: Rebecca Kent