Downton Abbey Tour
Wish you were The Dowager Countess? Want to step back in time and discover the England of yesteryear?
This is THE tour for all things Downton!
Your trip starts with your arrival in London on Thursday, September 8th where you’ll check in to the iconic Hotel Russell in the heart of Bloomsbury. Built to plans approved by the Duke of Bedford in 1897 and used as a template for the interior design of the Titanic, this grand Victorian hotel will be your home for your first two nights in England. There are no planned activities over these first days, allowing you to sightsee (and get over your jet lag) at your own pace. We can work with you to customize your visit to this incredible city, so if it’s your first visit or your fiftieth, you’ll be sure to enjoy your time.
On Saturday September 10th, you and the rest of the group, along with your guide will be picked up by your coach driver. First stop, Hampton Court Palace. Originally built as a barn for the Knights Hospitaller in the 13th Century, it is best known as the favorite residence of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. We’ll visit the Tudor Great Hall, the Georgian Chocolate Kitchen, and the world-renowned gardens.
Following our morning at Hampton Court Palace, we head out of the city to our first Downton Abbey stop. Byfleet Manor plays the role of the Dower House, home to Maggie Smith’s acerbic and irrepressible Dowager Countess of Grantham. Standing on the site of a 13th Century royal hunting lodge, the current building was begun by Anne of Denmark, wife to James I, in 1619 and enlarged and rebuilt some 70 years later. We’ll be given a private tour by the current owner and enjoy High Tea in the garden, weather permitting.
Our first night in the English countryside will be spent in the idyllic village of Swinbrook, where we’ll stay at The Swan Inn on the banks of the River Windrush. The Swan has been awarded as “The Best Pub with Rooms” by travel guru Alastair Sawday and The Good Pub Guide has named them Dining Pub of The Year. Yet a wonderful meal and a comfortable bedroom aren’t the only attractions for us. The Swan was the inn where Lady Sybil and Branson stopped when they eloped and where Ladies Mary and Edith caught up with the couple and convinced them to return to Downton. It’s the perfect place for our first night out.
On Sunday we head out to the Oxfordshire village of Bampton. This quintessential English village is where they shoot the exteriors for the village of Downton. A market town since the Middle Ages, Bampton is still home to many wonderful shops and galleries, including the West Ox Art Gallery in the Town Hall.
After Bampton, we’re off to Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire to visit Waddesdon Manor. Built in the Neo-Renaissance style of a French Chateau by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1874, the house played the part of Haxby Park – neighboring estate to Downton Abbey. Set in formal gardens and an English landscape park, it houses a fantastic collection of priceless furnishings, artwork, and objects d’art.
On Monday we set off to tour Grey’s Court, a charming Tudor mansion in the Chiltern Hills. You’ll recognize it as Downton Place, a “smaller” house the Granthams were considering moving into at one point. While the Downton Abbey cast picnicked on the lawn, we’ll be exploring the walled gardens, the maze, and the 12th Century tower. While the house itself is lovely, with some stunning 18th Century plasterwork and beautiful 16th Century stained glass, the gardens at Grey’s Court, famed for their roses and wisteria, are really the special draw. The nearby village of West Wycombe is another picture perfect English village, complete with wonderful shops and pubs. All in all a very English afternoon.
Tuesday we’re going to Basildon Park. This is an 18th Century Palladian mansion which was completely and lovingly restored in the mid-1950s with period furniture, fixtures and fittings scoured from across the country. It’s interiors will be familiar to Downton Abbey fans as those of Grantham House, the family’s London home and the site of a special Downton family wedding in the Season Five finale!
We move on to take a very special High Tea at Cliveden House. Cliveden is one of the most famous properties in England and over the years has been home to an earl, three countesses, two dukes, and a Prince of Wales. It’s the first place that Rule Britannia was played; it gave it’s name to The Cliveden Set, a group of politically influential aristocrats who weekended there in the 1920s and ‘30s, when Nancy Astor was in residence; and it figured prominently in the 1970s spy scandal, The Profumo Affair. The house and gardens are so full of treasures, one wit once likened it to “living on the stage at La Scala.” In literature from Daniel Defoe to Gore Vidal and in film from The Beatles Help! to Robert Downey, Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes, Cliveden House appears again and again.
Highclere Castle is our destination on Wednesday afternoon. This Victorian mansion in the Jacobean style is the now-iconic Downton Abbey, yet before the film crews found it the home was crumbling into oblivion. The Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, longtime friends of Downton Abbey’s writer and producer Julian Fellowes, admit that damp and rot had made more than 50 of the castle’s rooms uninhabitable. Over $18 million worth of repairs were urgently needed and the Castle’s subsequent fame has been a godsend. The Carnarvon name may be familiar and not just for their recent time in the Downton spotlight. The current Earl is the great grandson of the fifth Lord Carnarvon who, along with Howard Carter, discovered King Tut’s tomb in 1922. The Curse of The Pharaohs was said to follow the members of Carter’s expedition and Lord Carnarvon died six weeks after the opening of the tomb. Today, an exhibition of the Fifth Earl’s Egyptian exploits is housed at the Castle. The 5,000 acre estate boasts a park by famed 18th Century landscape designer Capability Brown and the iconic cedars were grown from seed brought from Lebanon 100 years before that. Exploring the house and grounds will fill our afternoon and a farewell dinner back at Tylney Hall will round out our trip.
On Thursday morning our driver will deliver us to Heathrow Airport, where those who are staying in the UK can catch tube and rail connections to London and beyond.
$3000 per person. This will include all accommodations - bed & breakfast, some dinners, and both High Teas; pick-up and transport throughout the tour; and all entrance fees and guided tours.
In addition, you'll get all the perks of a "Trip With Michele." This means that a few months before our trip, you'll get a packet from me which will include a detailed itinerary, guide books, and maps of our destination. In the weeks before we leave, you'll get texts and/or emails with historical tidbits and fun facts for the sites we'll see and a few days before our departure I'll send you a complete weather report, to help with packing. On the tour itself, I’ll happily customize each day for the participants, so whether your idea of ideal is go-go-go or more laid back, you’ll have the perfect trip. Finally, if you’d like to begin or end your trip with additional nights in London, or visits to other English or European destinations, I can arrange add-ons for you at really terrific rates.