If you have time to spare, you can take any number of fascinating excursions. But if you can squeeze in only one, make it Hughenden Manor.
West Wycombe -- Snuggled in the Chiltern Hills 48km (30 miles) west of London and 24km (15 miles) northwest of Windsor, the village of West Wycombe still has an atmosphere of the early 18th century. The thatched roofs have been replaced by tiles, and some of the buildings have been rebuilt, but the village is still 2 centuries removed from the present day.
From Windsor, take the M4 (toward Reading), and then the A404 to the A40. Signs to follow en route include MAIDENHEAD, MARLOW, and OXFORD. If you previously visited Hughenden Manor, the village of West Wycombe lies immediately to the west. Public transportation is awkward, but the Chiltern Line from London stops at High Wycombe, from which you can catch a bus from the station to West Wycombe or hail a taxi.
A visit to West Wycombe wouldn't be complete without a tour of West Wycombe Park, seat of the Dashwood family. Now owned by the National Trust, it's of both historical and architectural interest. The house is one of the best examples of Palladian-style architecture in England. The interior is lavishly decorated with paintings and antiques from the 18th century.
In the mid-18th century, Sir Francis Dashwood began an ambitious building program at West Wycombe. His strong interest in design led Sir Francis to undertake a series of monuments and parks that are still among the finest in the country.
Sir Francis also commissioned the excavation of a cave on the estate to serve as a meeting place for the notorious Hellfire Club, which spent its time partying and drinking. The cave is about 1km (a half-mile) long, filled with stalactites and stalagmites, and dotted with statues.
The house and grounds are open April to May Sunday to Thursday 2 to 6pm, June to August Sunday to Thursday 2 to 6:30pm. If you wish to visit only the grounds (Apr-Aug), the cost is less. The caves are open daily April to October 11am to 5:30pm; off-season hours are only on Saturday and Sunday 11am to 5:30pm. The cave tour includes stops for talks about former Hellfire members; it lasts 30 minutes. For more information, call the West Wycombe Estate Office at West Wycombe (tel. 01494/513569) or the caves at tel. 01494/533739 (www.hellfirecaves.co.uk).
Other sights include the Church of St. Lawrence, perched on West Wycombe Hill and topped by a huge golden ball. Parts of the church date from the 13th century; its interior was copied from a 3rd-century Syrian sun temple. The view from the hill is worth the trek up. Near the church stands the Dashwood Mausoleum, built in a style derived from Constantine's Arch in Rome.
After your tour, head for George & Dragon, High Street (tel. 01494/464414), for a pint or a good, inexpensive lunch. In a building that dates from 1720, this former coaching inn has a cheerful log fire, a comfortable-size bar (which gets crowded on weekends), and an impressive oak staircase with its own ghost. A separate room is open to children, as well as a children's play area and a garden for dining outside. If you want to stay over, it has eight cozily furnished rooms with private bathrooms, and they include breakfast.
The Cottage Where Milton Wrote Paradise Lost -- The modern residential town of Gerrards Cross is often called the Beverly Hills of England, as it attracts many wealthy Londoners, among others. To the north of it is Chalfont St. Giles, where poet John Milton lived during the Great Plague in 1665. To reach it, take the A355 north from Windsor for 74km (46 miles), bypassing Beaconsfield until you come to the signposted cutoff for Chalfont St. Giles to the east.
Chalfont St. Giles today is a typical English village, though its history goes back to Roman times. The charm of the village is in its center, with shops, pubs, and cafes clustered around the green and the village pond.
The 16th-century John Milton's Cottage, Chalfont St. Giles (tel. 01494/872313; www.miltonscottage.org), is the site where the great poet completed Paradise Lost and started Paradise Regained. Its four rooms contain many relics and exhibits devoted to Milton. It is open March to October Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 1pm and 2 to 6pm.
Legoland Windsor (www.legoland.co.uk; [tel] 0871/222-2001; open March–Oct; £47 adults, £41 kids/seniors), 2 miles from town, has top-notch rides catering to small children and some impressive Lego constructions. Shuttles go from the Theatre Royal. The tourist office sells discounted tickets for late-afternoon entry.