As Downton Abbey prepares to draw the curtain over its six-season and five-year legacy, Highclere Castle, which provided the stunning backdrop to the most successful ITV drama of all time, is doing no such thing. Quite the contrary, the English country estate is preparing for a big year ahead in 2016. The castle has already sold out many of its openings for spring, and it opens doors to its new on-site hotel called London Lodge from March to September, when it will welcome guests to stay overnight for the first time in all its history.
Highclere Castle has provided the backdrop to Downton Abbey across its successful six-season history
Highclere is a working estate and the 8th Earl of Carnarvon and his family still live in the imposing country pile. While it is closed for much of the year, it does open for two weeks over Easter, the May bank holidays and for two months from Sunday to Thursday over the summer – between 60 and 70 days a year in total. The Edwardian mansion, which was transformed in the mid-19th century by the architect of the Houses of Parliament, Sir Charles Barry, also opens for a few festive events in December and for some special events throughout the year.
The castles's majestic interiors have become familiar for Downton fans
Majestic interiors of some 300 rooms surrounded by towers and turrets have played home to the Crawleys, but in real life, as well as being home to the Carnarvons, this majestic property in Berkshire is home to an Egyptian exhibition teeming with original artefacts. The ode to ancient Egypt comes down to the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, the chief financial backer of egyptologist Howard Carter who excavated Tutankhamen's tomb.
The Earl and Countess estimate that the castle is home to more than 300 rooms, including 60 bedrooms
The lavishly furnished floors of the estate also boast framed portraits of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, an impressive Van Dyck portrait of King Charles I on horseback, and a library that stretches almost the entire length of the house. And of course the property is set within 5,000 acres of rolling parkland meaning guests can wander the manicured lawns, secret gardens and pretty greenhouses to their hearts' content.
The Earl and Countess of Carnarvon have big plans for Highclere, which is their official residence
London Lodge is a Georgian Grade II-listed gatehouse to Highclere situated to the north of the estate that Lord and Lady Carnarvon have spent two years restoring. Divided into two separate lodges situated either side of the property’s heavy iron gates, the gatehouse features all of the castle's period charm teamed with modern amenities including feature wood burning stoves, fully equipped kitchens, double bedrooms, TVs, Wi-Fi, and mini-fridges. Rooms at London Lodge begin at £350 per night.
The imposing estate is set within 5,000 acres of rolling parkland, where a new lodge open for hire opens in 2016
Other big plans for the Carnarvons include Capability Brown garden tours to mark the 300th anniversary of the famed landscape architect's birth next year. Virtual tours, and a recipe book taken from the castle's archives are also on the horizon.
For Downton fans wishing to visit for the day, the estate sells a limited number of walk-in tickets – pre-book online to secure a place. Adult entry to the house and gardens is £20.
Pick up HELLO! magazine's festive double issue for a full interview with the owners of Highclere, the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, and a closer look inside the castle.