Woburn Abbey -- In the 1950s, the present duke of Bedford opened Woburn Abbey to the public to pay off his debt of millions of pounds in inheritance taxes. In 1974, he turned the estate over to his son and daughter-in-law, the marquess and marchioness of Tavistock, who reluctantly took on the business of running the 75-room mansion. And what a business it is, today drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors a year and employing more than 300 people to staff the shops and grounds.
Its state apartments are rich in furniture, porcelain, tapestries, silver, and a valuable art collection, including paintings by Van Dyck, Holbein, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, and Reynolds. One of the most notable paintings is the Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I. Her hand rests on the globe, as Philip's invincible armada perishes in the background.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Woburn Abbey in 1841; Victoria's dressing room displays a fine collection of 17th-century paintings from the Netherlands. Among the oddities and treasures at Woburn Abbey are a grotto of shells, a Sèvres dinner service (gift of Louis XV), and a chamber devoted to memorabilia of "the Flying Duchess," the wife of the 11th duke of Bedford, a remarkable woman who disappeared on a solo flight in 1937 (coincidentally, the same year as Amelia Earhart). The duchess was 72 years old at the time.
Today, Woburn Abbey is surrounded by a 1,214-hectare (3,000-acre) deer park, including the famous Père David deer herd, which was originally from China and saved from extinction at Woburn. Woburn Safari Park has lions, tigers, giraffes, camels, monkeys, Przewalski's horses, bongos, and other animals.