Stephanie Spitler
January 14, 2014 8:00 am

Like millions of others, I eagerly tuned in to the premiere of the fourth season of “Downton Abbey” a few weeks ago. I’ve been hooked on the series ever since the first episode. The show has all of my favorite things: grand English country estates, beautiful period costumes and enough drama to make a daytime soap opera proud.

Maybe it’s the fact that we don’t have legit castles over here in the US that makes me so fascinated by the grand old houses that take a starring role in these dramas. I was excited to learn, in my epic inspired-by-Downton research, that the actual castle used in the series (Highclere Castle) opens seasonally for tours, and can be rented for weddings and events. While I don’t have any immediate plans (or the required cash) to rent out a castle and fulfill all of my PBS-inspired fantasies, I did start thinking about some other Downton-esque sites I’d like to add to my “Ultimate Elegant Country Houses Tour 2014.”

Highclere Castle (“Downton Abbey”): Because duh. From the minute I saw the opening credits, I knew I needed to visit. One of the coolest things about the castle is that the current Earl and Countess of Carnarvon still live there. I may never know what it feels like to live in a real English castle, but I’m definitely excited to visit one someday. Even if I don’t get to see Mr. Bates, Anna or the Dowager Countess.

Lyme Park (“Pride and Prejudice”): In my opinion, the 1995 BBC miniseries version of “Pride and Prejudice” is the one and only (sorry, Keira Knightley). And, if you’ve seen this version, you’ll remember Pemberley. Or, more importantly, you’ll remember a broody Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, and Pemberley as his often-mentioned home. Lyme Park played the part of Mr. Darcy’s ancestral home (well, the exterior did anyway). To see the interiors used in the film, you’d have to take a stroll over to Sudbury Hall (Elizabeth Bennett would definitely approve of a nice, long walk).

Wrotham Park (“Gosford Park”): Another favorite movie of mine is “Gosford Park” (which, coincidentally, was written by Julian Fellowes, who also created “Downton”). It’s a whodunit set in a country house, during a weekend shooting party. If you haven’t seen it, since it’s from 2001, do yourself a favor and watch it. Immediately. Like, right now. However, just like in Pride & Prejudice, the exterior of Wrotham Park was filmed, but the interior scenes come from a few different locations. I guess that just goes to show that there’s no perfect English country house. For Hollywood, anyway. I’d gladly take any or all of them.

Alnwick Castle (“Harry Potter”): Confession time: I haven’t read any of the Harry Potter books. I’ve only seen part of one of the movies. But it’s an international phenomenon with devoted fans, so who am I to question that? Plus, even having no knowledge of the plotlines (beyond the fact that Harry’s a boy wizard), I have to admit that Alnwick Castle is cool. So you can call it Hogwarts, and I’ll call it Alnwick, and we’ll both appreciate the magic of a gorgeous castle.

What famous houses are on your must-see list?

Tweet me @StephSpitler

Featured image via Shutterstock

Advertisement