London - Compared with the splendour of the pyramids or the majesty of the Taj Mahal, it may appear a fairly modest creation.

But a field of stone monuments in Wiltshire has been named as the second best heritage site in the world.

The collection of Neolithic stones in Avebury has been placed ahead of much more recognisable sites including the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and the Forbidden City in China.

Experts at Which? Travel magazine placed Mexico’s ancient city of Monte Alban in first place.

The panel used criteria including the preservation of the site and appeal of the local region as a place to take a holiday.

The three stone circles at Avebury outscored more famous historic landmarks because of a high score on the overall visitor experience.

The site, which attracts more than 250,000 visitors a year, was praised because tourists can wander freely between the stones, unlike the more famous Stonehenge, also in Wiltshire, where the formations are roped-off.

Avebury, near Calne, beat the pyramids of Egypt partly because rural Wiltshire was considered a nicer place to visit than the Sahara desert. Visitors to the greener parts of the county enjoy beautiful rolling hills and quiet, picturesque villages.

Which? Travel magazine described the Unesco World Heritage site as ‘the best-preserved and most impressive complex of prehistoric sites in Europe’.

Reacting to the news, Stuart Wheeler of Wiltshire Council said: ‘We have always known we have a wonderful piece of history on our doorstep and now we have official confirmation.’

Avebury is a Neolithic henge monument comprising three stone circles. The monuments, thought to have been constructed around 2600BC, are the largest stone circles in Europe, and a place of great importance to pagans.

Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust archaeologist at Avebury, said: ‘Our dedicated team of staff and volunteers work year round to ensure that it remains a source of inspiration and delight.

‘It is wonderful to see that the very special qualities of Avebury have been recognised in this way.’ - Daily Mail