Highclere Castle, the real-life home of Downton Abbey situated in the heart of Hampshire, is a remarkable historical home with grand interiors, breathtaking bee-friendly gardens and incredible views.
While it is of course best known as the home of the Crawley family from the much-loved ITV drama, the property is currently owned by the Eighth Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, along with their seven dogs.
The opulent castle is a fully-functioning tourist destination, with many visitors from around the world heading here every day. As well as tours of the famous rooms, the castle holds a whole host of different events and parties throughout the year.
It was designed by Charles Barry, a premier Victorian architect whose CV also includes the Houses of Parliament in London. 'It's quite a masculine house so it needs strength wherever I'm looking. It needs to feed off the inspiration of what Charles was creating in 1842, when the first stone was laid,' says Lady Carnarvon, in a previous interview with Country Living.
We take a look around the captivating property ahead of the new Downton Abbey film release on Friday 13th September. With over 200 rooms, 5,000 acres of land and scene-stealing interiors, there is plenty to see...
As you drive up the quiet winding roads towards the castle entrance, you'll spot the honey-coloured building roof peeking through the trees in front of you — and you know exactly where you are.
The castle looks much more grand in real life. The doors to the hallway exude decadence, while also feeling incredibly welcoming. Carpet runners add warmth to the stone flooring, pictures make it personal and lighting creates atmosphere.
The property first came about for being used as the Downton Abbey set through good food and wine. The countess told Country Living:' I've been friends with Julian Fellowes for a long time and he has come to stay with us many times since we moved in (in 2003). He wrote Downton Abbey very much with Highclere in mind because it's one of the largest houses in England.
'He said it has a "cosy splendour" which I think is really apt. There may be two to three hundred rooms here but, when you come in, it also feels like a home. You don't have to parade through marble rooms with a long dress trailing behind you – this is a house where you can sit and have a cup of coffee.'
Many of the rooms in the castle have been redecorated by Lady Carnarvon herself. 'I stick to a budget I'm happy with, but always want to make it cosy,' she tells Miescisko UK.
The bedrooms are particularly memorable. Large king-sized beds, luxuriously soft duvets, stacks of magazines for guests to peruse, thick curtains to lock in the warmth and a rich colour palette creates a space that really is good enough for the big screen.
When decorating the property, Lady Carnarvon takes into account how the design can work practically. 'In the areas of the castle where lots of people walk around, we have to have put paint on the walls as opposed to wallpaper because they are going to brush against it with their bags,' she explains.
While many of the rooms have been updated with modern must-haves (warm carpet, baths and soft bedding), the rooms do still cling on to their historical roots.
Many of the bedrooms have been used for filming Downton Abbey, most famously the room where Lord and Lady Grantham sleep. Visitors at the castle are able to take a tour around 12 of the bedrooms, but in total there are around 40 to 50.
Elegant, peaceful and as grand as can be, the Drawing Room is simply stunning. Decorated with an extravagant chandelier, mint green wallpaper, silk and family portraits, it's the kind of place you could escape to with a book on a quiet afternoon.
The room often appears in the series as a place where the Crawley family sit in the evening. The room is a communal one where everyone gathered and spent time before and after meals.
Narrow cupboards between the double doors from the Drawing Room to the Smoking Room previously hid the 5th Earl of Carnarvon's collection of Egyptian antiquities.
This wonderfully sunny South-facing room has an incredible baroque ceiling which was painted by Francis Hayman in the 1730s. Much like the other rooms on the first floor, this space is also breathtaking. Anyone visiting will love the 16th century embroideries hanging from the walls.
Take a tour of the room and you'll spot many of its features from the series.
In the library there are over 5,000 books, with the earliest one dating back to the 16th century. The beautiful space is used as much by the family today as it was in the past, with many coming here to relax before meals.
The double library was often used during the late Victorian period by the 4th Earl of Carnarvon as a 'withdrawing' room. With plush red sofas and warm carpets, it's no surprise it's a place where many like to unwind.
One of the best things about the library is the 'secret' door. It has books painted on the back to make it look like part of the bookcase, when in fact it leads to the next room.
Decorated in a rich orange hue, this reception room features beautiful paintings from the 17th century. Dark wooden flooring is layered with a warm carpet, while large floor-to-ceiling windows bring in plenty of light.
The exterior of the castle is completely breathtaking. Here, the well-kept gardens are colourful and fragrant. There's a wildflower garden (planted especially for the bees), dozens of roses, benches to sit on and large cedar trees to provide shade in the height of summer.
Other beautiful plant species at the castle include clematis scrambling up dark green obelisks, crambe, agapanthus, peonies, hydrangeas and poppies, too. One of our favourite spots, however, is the enchanting secret garden area with curving herbaceous borders, serpentine paths and riotous displays of colour.
The vast expanse of the outside area means there is also a large woodland towards the back, with 38 native British trees including beech and oak. In the spring, snowdrops and daffodils fill the grassy areas with colour, creating a beautiful display you'll remember forever.
Watch a tour of Highclere's beautiful rose garden below...
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