How to see Highclere Castle from the popular PBS series on your next cruise
Lady Carnarvarn who has written one of the definitive books on the history of Downton Abbey
I don’t know anyone who is not a fan of the great PBS series “Downton Abbey.” If you have seen the series the last two years t5hen you have likely also seen the introductory videos to promote Viking River Cruises. When I was guest aboard a Viking River cruise vessel in Holland last year I was privileged to meet one of the real residents of Highclere Castle, the real site of the “manor” that is Downton Abbey in the series, Lady Fiona Carnarvon, author of the book “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey.”
Lady Fiona was aboard the cruise because she has becomes friends with the president of the Viking Cruises company, Tor Hagen, and his family. Tor has a delightful story about how the relationship between the Carnarvon family and the Hagen’s was created.
A few years ago Viking River was looking for a new way to promote the river cruise line – something that mirrored the real experience for Viking River fans – the immersion in real European culture with a close up look at the history and culture that defines Europe. The company decided that Downton Abbey would be the perfect television series for the line to “sponsor” (although PBS does not have sponsors, it has supporters).
Tor told us that the company contacted the producers of the series. At the time the main sponsor was an oil company, as I recall (Exxon or BP). The producers told Tor that in fact the family Carnarvon takes a personal interest in the sponsors for the show and so they wanted to make sure the cruise line was the right fit before they agreed to affiliate the Downton Abbey name with Viking River.
But as Tor tells it, the family had never heard of Viking River (although in fact it is one of the most successful river cruise lines in the world), and so when they returned his call their most specific question was “Now, who are you people again?”
An agreement to have Viking River as a supporter for at least one year was forged, but during that first year the Carnarvon family became closer to Tor and especially his daughter who is similar in age to Lady Carnarvon. Now Viking River has been the primary supporter of “Downton Abbey” for three full seasons.
Seeing Highclere Castle
I just got a press release from another cruise line, European Waterways, which specializes in tours and even cruises in Great Britain on the River Thames. Now, Viking River does not cruise on the Thames, but that does not mean you cannot get a fantastic tour of Highclere Castle when you book a Viking River Cruise. The line offers a three-day tour of London and the surrounding countryside that includes an extensive visit to Highclere Castle. In fact, for fans of the show I highly recommend this web page for a closer look at what you will see on the tour.
The Viking River cruise extension works best for cruises in France, Holland or Spain, but can be added to almost any European river cruise you wish to book. You will fly to Britain, spend three nights in an Oxford Hotel, get daily breakfasts, three guided tours and transport between Paris and London via Eurostar included in the cruise extension.
The European Waterways offering just added two additional “Downton Abbey” cruises along the Royal River Thames on the Magna Carta river barge, departing August 10 and August 17. The cruises will include a tour of Highclere Castle, the real-life setting for the renowned period drama and iconic home of the fictional Crawley family on the show. The company already has “Downton Abbey” cruises scheduled for departures on April 13, April 20, and May 4.
“We introduced the tour of Highclere Castle on the Magna Carta cruise last year and interest was so strong that we brought it back this season for select spring departures.” Demand was so high they had to add two more tours for the summer, according to Derek Banks, managing director of European Waterways.
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