CHATSWORTH HOUSE & GARDENS, Bakewell

Chatsworth is one of Britain's best loved historic houses and estates, offering something for everyone to enjoy, from famous works of art and the spectacular fountains in the garden to the finest shopping, food and drink and many miles of free walks. The home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire is set in the magnificent landscape of Derbyshire's Peak District National Park.

The 1000 acre park and the farmshop and its restaurant are open all year round. The house, garden, farmyard, gift shops and restaurant are now closed, and will re-open on 14 March 2007. Chatsworth has a long tradition of welcoming local people and holiday makers from around the world.

In Chatsworth House, you can see the grandest rooms filled with examples of superb craftsmanship and treasures collected over five centuries. The famous garden contains spectacular waterworks and you are welcome to walk, picnic and play here and in the surrounding park. The farmyard and adventure playground welcomes young visitors and families and has special activities throughout the season. The best shopping, food and drink complete your visit.

Opening times:  March to December

HADDON HALL, Bakewell

Haddon Hall is a fortified medieval manor house dating from the 12th Century, and is the home of Lord and Lady Edward Manners whose family have owned it since 1567.

Described by Simon Jenkins in 1000 Best houses as "the most perfect house to survive from the middle ages", this remarkable old house is surrounded by terraced Elizabethan gardens and is set amongst the rolling countryside of the Peak District National Park.

Haddon has welcomed visitors for hundreds of years and its beauty and atmosphere never fails to enchant.

The house is open to visitors from April to October, with a number of special events being staged throughout the season. School parties and groups are very welcome.

Haddon has featured in many films and TV programmes including Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightly, Mathew MacFadeyn, and Dame Judy Dench. Most recently Haddon was used as the setting for Thornfield in the BBC's adaptation of Jane Eyre.

BOLSOVER CASTLE, Chesterfield

Dominating the countryside from its hilltop, Bolsover occupies the site of a medieval castle built by the Peverel family shortly after the Norman Conquest. Sir Charles Cavendish bought the old castle in 1612 and began work on his 'Little Castle' project. Despite its embattled appearance, his creation was not designed for defence, but for elegant living.

Sir Charles intended the house as a retreat from the world to an imaginary golden age of chivalry and pleasure. His son William, later Duke of Newcastle, inherited the Little Castle in 1616 and set about its completion, assisted by the architect John Smythson. An extraordinary survival, the exquisitely carved fireplaces and recently conserved murals and painted panelling of its interiors take the visitor on an allegorical journey from earthly concerns to heavenly (and erotic) delights.

William also added the vast and stately rooms of the Terrace Range, now a dramatic roofless shell. To show off his achievement, in 1634 he invited the Stuart court to 'Love's Welcome to Bolsover', a masque specially written by Ben Jonson for performance in the Fountain Garden. Finally he constructed the cavernous Riding House with its magnificent roof, perhaps the finest surviving indoor riding school in Britain: here he indulged his passion for training 'great horses'. There is also a Discovery Centre in the Stables, with audio-visual displays.

The castle battlements and the Venus Garden are in the process of being restored, and the fountain, with 23 new statues, plays again for the first time in centuries. A series of 'Caesar paintings' depicting Roman emperors and empresses has also recently returned to Bolsover. These were commissioned by William Cavendish and copied from originals by the great Venetian artist Titian - which have since been destroyed - making the Bolsover versions uniquely important

HARDWICK HALL, Chesterfield

Like a huge glass lantern, Hardwick dominates the surrounding area – a magnificent statement of the wealth and authority of its builder, Bess of Hardwick. Designed by Robert Smythson, the house is remarkable for being almost unchanged since Bess lived here, giving a rare insight into the formality of courtly life of the Elizabethan age.

There are outstanding collections of 16th-century embroidery, tapestries, furniture and portraits. Walled courtyards enclose fine gardens, orchards and a herb garden, and the surrounding country park contains rare breeds of cattle and sheep. In the grounds are the remains of Hardwick Old Hall, which Bess continued to use after her new house was built.

Directions:
6½ml W of Mansfield, 9½ml SE of Chesterfield; approach from M1 (exit 29) via A6175. Note: a one-way traffic system operates in the park; access only via Stainsby Mill entrance (leave M1 exit 29, follow brown signs), exit only via Hardwick Inn. Park gates shut 6 in summer, at dusk in winter.