Downton Abbey might be wrapping up its TV run, but you can still fulfill that romantic fantasy of being to the manor born.
There are plenty of historic houses available to visit throughout the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe. Of course, it’s one thing to go on a public tour of a castle; it’s another thing to stay overnight in one—maybe even get invited to have lunch with an aristocrat.
Vacation websites such as Tripping, HomeAway, or Airbnb list castles for rent, such as Carr Hall Castle in Yorkshire for about $2,000 a night, or several castles that were featured in Game of Thrones. But to get a true feeling for what the modern Downton Abbey experience is like, Lady Foley Grand Tour Productions offers the opportunity for “discerning affluent individuals” to meet British aristocrats.
The Honorable Alexandra Foley, daughter of the late Lord Foley, 8th Baron of Kidderminster, said the idea behind these tours is a person-to-person exchange.
“My angle is very simply to introduce people in an intimate way … to owners of historic houses and estates, such as Belvoir Castle or West Wycombe, where the owners are very old friends and they really would love to have the business,” she said.
These invitations are similar to the type of touring done in the 17th and 18th centuries when affluent young men would tour Europe and establish personal and business relationships with other well-off people.
Invitations can be tailored for visitors and can be as simple as a lunch to meet one family, or as elaborate as several days of visiting different families with dinner parties and traditional British game shooting, Foley said.
Fancy a High Tea?
An example of a basic lunch invitation would be to meet the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, about a three-hour drive north of London. Foley said guests would be collected at their central London hotel and chauffeured or flown by helicopter to the castle. There would be an initial meet and coffee, a mini home tour, drinks before lunch, a sit-down lunch, a more extensive tour after lunch, and then tea before the guests return to London. As many as six people can go, at a cost between £1,500 and £2,000 (about $2,700 to $2,900) per person, she said.
For dinner parties or other overnight events, some hosts allow visitors to stay in the castle, but if that’s not possible, Foley arranges for guests to stay at nearby five-star hotels. Costs for those invitations are higher.
Foley meets with guests the night before the visit to answer questions they might have and smooth the way for the big meeting. Visiting historic houses is part of the fun, but these invitations are potential networking opportunities, too.
“It’s a win-win situation. [It’s] fun … to meet new people, and they’re the right kind of very super-affluent, upmarket people to meet. Because anyone can go around and see the palace, but not everyone can have lunch with the Duke of Rutland,” she said.
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