Heritage hot spots: Where to take the family for a taste of history

Sat, Dec 10, 2011, 00:00

Belvedere House, Gardens Park, Co Westmeath

What is it?A Georgian villa set in more than 60 hectares of parkland with views over Lough Ennell. The parkland has many follies, including the Jealous Wall, built to block the view of Rochfort House (now Tudenham House, in ruins), the much larger house of the original owner’s brother.

Belvedere was built in 1740 by the architect Richard Castles as a hunting and fishing lodge for Baron Belfield (Robert Rochfort), who later became the first earl of Belvedere. A Victorian walled garden was added in the 1840s for the then owner, Charles Brinsley Marlay. Belvedere House and Gardens were bought by Westmeath County Council in 1982, and the gardens and grounds were opened in 1984. The house and gardens were restored between 1998 and 2000.

Why visit?Belvedere House is renowned for its rococo plaster ceilings, attributed to the French stuccodore Barthemij Carmillion. The Venetian windows in the drawing room and dining rooms give views over the landscape.

Why now?The house is decorated for Christmas in Victorian style, with garlands of laurel, ivy and pine, a Christmas tree (the Georgians were the first to bring Christmas trees indoors) and a nativity crib.

The parklands are ideal for winter walks. You can choose between the original Earls Trail (3km) or Molesworth Trail (1km) and the new Belvedere Sacred Tree Trail (2km).

In 2005, part of the parklands was made to resemble Narnia: the 3km Narnia Trail brings you through the ancient whispering wood and past the beaver dam, the stone table, the white witch’s castle (a Gothic arch folly) and Cair Paravel, a gazebo folly that has been modified to include four thrones and a one-and-a-half- tonne stone Aslan.

Green Santa, dressed in the green robes traditional in Victorian times, is a big attraction. You can meet him in the courtyard next to a replica of the Dawn Treadership, in honour of the latest C hronicles of Narniafilm. Children travel through the enchanted wardrobe and into Narnia before meeting him.

How to get there?Belvedere House and Gardens are off the N52 three kilometres south of Mullingar. It is open from 9.30am to 4.30pm (4pm for the house, with last admission one hour before closing) every day except December 24th, 25th, 26th and 31st. Admission is €8.75 for adults; €4.75 for children; €24 for two adults and two children; and €12 for child admission with a visit to Santa (today, tomorrow and next Saturday and Sunday). Adults and under-threes go free with each child visit to Santa; 044-9349060, info@belvedere-house.ie.