A perfect day in the Downton Era

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Since its screen debut in autumn 2010, Downton Abbey has captivated the hearts and minds of the world with its picture perfect sets and costumes and upstairs-downstairs shenanigans. The series racked up an impressive 16 nominations at this year’s Emmy Awards, and it has even been affecting our holiday habits. 2011 saw a six percent increase in visits to historic houses and castles, a year-on-year rise that’s being dubbed the ‘Downton Effect’.

TV’s most lavish period drama returned to our screens for a third series last night, with the promise of even more drama, romance and intrigue. Take inspiration from Downton, and channel your inner Lady Mary or Mathew Crawley with one of these aristocrat-inspired activities.

Take a tour of Highclere Castle
Discover the true story behind Downton Abbey, with a ‘set-jetting’ day trip to Highclere Castle (www.highclerecastle.co.uk), the filming location for the smash hit series. Often described as the finest occupied mansion in England, the castle has been the home of the Earls of Carnarvon for over 300 years. Set in 1,000 acres of 18th century parkland, the castle was the seat of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who famously discovered the Tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings in 1922. Admission costs £16 for adults and £9.50 for children.

In 2013, Brit Movie Tours (www.britmovietours.com) will be offering a new Downton Abbey Experience, allowing fans to experience life above and below stairs. These small group tours will take in all of the main locations featured in the show and give visitors the chance to experience aspects of Edwardian life in a Downton style setting. Guests will get to hear anecdotes about the cast, filming and the production and also step back in time and live life as an Edwardian aristocrat. Tour costs £747 per person for a shared room and £897 per person for a single room.

Stay in the same hotel as the Downton Abbey cast

Book at stay in The Carnarvon Arms (www.thecarnarvonarmshotel.com) in Newbury where the Downton Abbey cast stay while filming. A grade-II former coach house of neighbouring Highclere Castle, it has recently undergone restoration by Marco Pierre White and his team and is now a luxury country inn hideaway. Offering sophisticated rooms and fine cuisine, this excellent-value hotel is the perfect place for a short break to explore the Berkshire countryside. Rooms from £89 bed and breakfast.

Take a tour of Bampton Village, Oxfordshire
Pay a visit to the picturesque Cotswolds village of Bampton, where the Downton characters come to post telegrams at the Post Office. It’s also rumoured to be the setting for the highly-anticipated wedding which will feature in the third series. Seek out the shingle-roofed Bampton Coffee House for a quintessentially English tea and scones (Market Square) or stop for a spot of lunch at the Vineyard at Stockcross (www.the-vineyard.co.uk), an elegant hotel with a great restaurant and an impressive wine cellar. Maggie Smith, Downton’s resident Dame, is rumoured to have stayed here during filming.

Head north to Harewood House
Just a few miles from Leeds proudly sits Harewood House (www.harewood.org), a 18th century stately home designed by Charles Barry, the same architect who designed Highclere Castle. Like Highclere, Harewood has extensive servant quarters still fully intact. Underneath the decadent state rooms splashed with gold fixtures and sumptuous scarlet and duck egg-coloured walls lies another world ‘Below Stairs’, where you can discover how the service staff lived and ensured that everything upstairs ran like clockwork. Admission costs £14 for adults and £7 for children.

Edwardian aesthetics

Admirers of the gorgeous lacy gowns and elegant Edwardian furniture seen on screen can indulge in Edwardian aesthetics at the V&A Museum (www.vam.ac.uk), Manchester Art Gallery (www.manchestergalleries.org) and Geffrye Museum (www.geffrye-museum.org.uk) which are all home to collections of costumes, décor and artefacts from the period. Fashionistas can nab Lady Mary’s sultry siren look at one of BVintage Bazaar Vintage Fairs (www.bvintagebazaar.co.uk) in the quintessential English town of Henley-on-Thames. Those who favour vintage cars over vintage clothes can head to Beaulieu Motor Museum (www.beaulieu.co.uk) in the New Forest to drool over vehicles like the ones featured in Downton Abbey when Lady Cybill runs off with the chauffeur and Lady Edith learns to drive.

The Royal Pavilion
Just like Downton Abbey, Brighton’s Royal Pavilion (www.brighton-hove-rpml.org.uk/RoyalPavilion ) was used as a hospital during World War I, housing and recuperating troops from the Indian Corps wounded on the Western Front in France and Flanders. Today, the pavilion houses a permanent exhibition containing paintings, archive photographs, contemporary accounts and film footage detailing a remarkable and often forgotten story. Admission costs £10 for adults and £5.70 for children.

For upstairs holiday experiences at downstairs prices, visit www.great2012offers.com



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