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Many of Britain’s elegant country mansions and castles are dotted through the rural landscapes of the Home Counties surrounding London. We delve into the fascinating society stories of these magnificent places with their enchanting treasures, including Highclere Castle, setting of the much-loved Downton Abbey TV series and feature film. We also experience the golden age of steam on the preserved heritage railway, the Watercress Line, explore the historic city of Winchester with its awe-inspiring cathedral and enjoy the magnificent RHS Garden Wisley.
*The round-trip transfer service from Heathrow airport to the Hampshire Court Hotel is included in the tour price. If you would prefer to be picked up from an alternative airport or location, please contact us for additional mileage costs.
You will be met at Heathrow airport for your transfer to the Hampshire Court Hotel in Chineham (journey time approximately 45 minutes). Check-in at the hotel is normally available from 2pm. Later, we enjoy a welcome drinks reception hosted by our tour manager, followed by dinner.
We visit world-famous Highclere Castle, residence of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon and filming location for the much loved Downton Abbey television series and feature film. Many of the rooms and vistas will be familiar to viewers of the series – both the Drawing Room and Dining Room forming the backdrop to the dryly withering put-downs delivered by Maggie Smith, as the Dowager Countess to some poor unfortunate relation. Entrance includes access to the Egyptian Exhibition in the cellars of the castle, which explores the achievements of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.
Our next stop is The Vyne, a splendid Tudor red-brick mansion set in 13 acres of attractive gardens. It was built for King Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain before becoming the Chute family home for over 300 years. The Tudor chapel is still largely in its original condition while the richly decorated Oak Gallery is another wonderful survival from the era.
We head to the medieval city of Winchester, ancient capital of England. Winchester’s history is rich and long, with ancient walls, a medieval Round Table, a magnificent military past and an awe-inspiring Norman cathedral. We enjoy a guided tour of the cathedral with its hidden treasures which include the tomb of the author Jane Austen and the Winchester Bible, one of the finest 12th-century bibles to have survived.
After free time for lunch in Winchester, we head to the picturesque Georgian market town of Alresford where we board our train on the heritage Mid Hants Railway, affectionately known as the Watercress Line due to its connection with transporting watercress from the beds in Alresford to London. We enjoy a scenic journey to the village of Medstead, passing through the beautiful Hampshire countryside on one of the steepest graded lines in the country.
This morning takes us to Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world and one of the Queen’s official residences. Established in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, it has been remodelled by successive kings and queens and is regularly used for ceremonial and State occasions. The magnificent State Apartments are furnished with some of the finest works of art from the Royal Collection, which we discover on our audio guided tour, while St George’s Chapel is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in England and was the venue for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s marriage in 2018.
Later we head to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Surrey flagship garden, RHS Garden Wisley which was gifted to the RHS in 1903. From the beautiful rose and demonstration gardens to tranquil tracts of woodland, Wisley offers a wealth of inspirational ideas on design, innovation and cultivation techniques. The state-of-the-art Glasshouse, built to celebrate the RHS’s bicentenary in 2007, is divided into three main planting zones representing desert, tropical and temperate climates.
Please note: as Windsor Castle is a working Royal palace, it may close at short notice. If we are unable to visit the castle, an alternative excursion will be offered.
You will be picked up from the Hampshire Court Hotel and transferred to Heathrow airport for your flight home.
The 4-star Hampshire Court Hotel is situated in Chineham in Hampshire. This modern hotel offers a restaurant and brasserie bar as well as leisure facilities including two indoor pools, tennis courts, steam room, sauna, gym and spa. Each of the en-suite rooms features a TV with selected Sky channels and free Wi-Fi.