Downton Abbey mania is sweeping through America… according to CNN, thanks to the popularity of the show, "heritage travel" in England is on fire--especially anything related to the estates, gardens and history that inspired this breakout British period drama.
The fictional Downton Abbey is located in Yorkshire (northern England) but the show is actually filmed at Highclere Castle (located some 70 miles west of central London in picturesque Hampshire) and is owned and inhabited by the real life Earl and Countess Carnavron. It's closed most of the year but between April through mid-September they open the gates to a limited number of visitors. CNN reports that 50,000 people went to see the house last year, compared to 30,000 who visited before the series began airing in the U.K. in 2010. Expecting even more demand this year, the Castle is booking advance reservations for 2012 beginning on February 1. Visit www.highclerecastle.co.uk
Downton Abbey fans can wander three floors of 'Above Stairs' and ‘Below Stairs’ rooms, including a few bedrooms, the drawing room, main hall and library where much of the drama of the Crawley family ensues. Expert guides in each room help explain both the fictional and actual historical significance of the building, furnishings and artwork. At times, fiction and history coincide; in 1914 Lady Almina of Highclere Castle tended to war victims of World War I and turned it into a convalescence home for returning soldiers just as they did in Downton Abbey. There is also an exhibit on Ancient Egypt, as the 5th Earl of Carnarvon was a sponsor of the expedition that discovered the Tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922. Outside, visitors have the opportunity to stroll 1,000 acres of parkland and gardens that provide the backdrop of the show. Adult admission for the castle, exhibitions and gardens is £16 with discounts for children, seniors and groups.
For a guided experience and the chance to sleep in a nearby historic mansion, the Audleys Wood Hotel, a four-star, 72-room property built in 1882, offers a one night package on April 3 with Phil Howe, a Hampshire expert from Hidden Britain Tours. Mr. Howe will give a lecture and tour of the area en route to Highclere Castle and take participants through the grounds and property, followed by high tea back at the hotel. The package is priced at £175 per person. Visit http://www.handpickedhotels.co.uk/hotels/audleys-wood-hotel-basingstoke/special-offers/Downton-Abbey-Tour-/
Also just 20 miles away is the Four Seasons Hampshire, located on a 500-acre estate, Dogmersfield Park, dating back to the 11th century. Rich in history (it’s where King Henry VIII first met his future wife, Catherine of Aragon) the hotel is a landmarked Georgian Manor that has been beautifully updated with a spa, pool, incredible dining and a host of country pursuits on offer. The hotel can arrange tours of Highclere Castle and the surrounding Hampshire countryside with appropriate picnic and bubbly to keep fans well nourished.
A day trip to Highclere Castle from London is offered by Lastminute.com which includes a tour of the village where the church, village fair and some hospital scenes were filmed. Visit http://www.lastminute.com/site/entertainment/daysout/event-product.html?eventID=911312978-1&multipleIDs=911312978-1%7C1%7C1%7C14&ticketOnly=&catID=96785&view=
Looking for more? The UK’s National Trust operates over 300 historic manor houses and gardens in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Overseas visitors can buy a seven day pass with unlimited free admission starting at £23 per person. Visit http://beta.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/overseas-visitors/
For fans that can’t get to England, Oheka Castle, the former Otto Kahn mansion set on 23 acres of immaculate gardens on Long Island’s historic Gold Coast, is offering the “Aristocratic Escape Package” which includes one night accommodations, afternoon tea, champagne, a three course dinner for two, breakfast and of course, Downton Abbey Season 1 DVD set for $695. Visit http://www.oheka.com/