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Highclere Castle is best known as the "real Downton Abbey", for this is where the award-winning television period drama has been filmed since 2010. Fans now flock here to walk in the footsteps of the fictional Crawley family, but there's much more to discover at this stately home beyond what you might have seen on the small screen.
Highclere has been home to the Carnarvon family and their forebears since 1679. The castle you see today - easily one of the most beautiful in Britain - was designed by the architect Sir Charles Barry, best known for his role in the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament.
When it was completed in 1878, it became a hive of political life and encapsulated the glamour of Britain's Edwardian period. Many prominent politicians, innovators and aviators would come to enjoy parties within its gorgeous state rooms, which were resplendent in rich silks, baroque ceilings and great art.
Today, when no filming is taking place, you can soak up the beauty of this incredible house as you tour the magnificent rooms.
Highclere has a fascinating display of Egyptian antiquities and artifacts, many of which were acquired by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, a keen archeologist who had concessions more than a century ago to excavate near Luxor, in the Valley of the Queens, the Valley of the Nobles, the Valley of the Kings, and in the Nile Delta near Alexandria.
He famously financed the search for the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922 and discovered it with his archaeological colleague Howard Carter.
Today, you can head to the castle cellars to admire a dedicated Egyptian Exhibition - a must for any history lover.
The castle is surrounded by 404 hectares of sweeping parkland designed by Capability Brown. Don't miss the impressively manicured gardens, including the Monks' Garden, originally a heritage orchard where 61 fruit trees were planted in the early 13th century, but is now a more decorative kitchen garden featuring climbing roses, lavender, pear trees, yew topiary and a glass house in which peaches and nectarines are grown.
The nearby White Border Garden is alive with white roses, agapanthus, peonies, hydrangeas and poppies, while the Secret Garden, which lies beyond, is a riot of colour in the summer. There's also a newly planted woodland with 38 trees endemic to the UK, an avenue of walnut trees, a rose arbour, camomile lawn and wildflower meadow.
The sweeping parkland provides breathtaking views across the rolling downlands of North Hampshire and the Kennet Valley. It is dotted with cedar trees, some of which are now 250 years old, and intriguing follies, including a pillared temple called Jackdaw's Castle, an Etruscan temple, The Temple of Diana and Heaven's Gate.
Highclere Castle is in Berkshire. It is only open to the public on select dates. For more information, including opening times and admission prices, visit the Highclere Castle website.
Photograph: © Highclere Castle LLP 2014
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