By Mary Forgione
Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
7:45 AM PST, January 7, 2013
"Downton Abbey," which begain its third season Sunday for U.S. viewers, is shot at Highclere Castle, the Victorian Gothic estate owned by the Earl and Countess of Carnavon. The castle has provided the lavish backdrop for the PBS drama -- and now the inspiration for a new river cruise excursion.
Viking River Cruises, a sponsor of the "Masterpiece" series, has created a three-night Oxford and Highclere Castle tour that may be added before or after two European cruises. It includes a day exploring Oxford University and London and a day at the stunning Highclere, built by the man who created Britain's Houses of Parliament.
Highclere has a history in some ways similar to the fictional Downton. It too was rescued by American dollars, and it housed wounded soldiers during World War I. At the castle, cruise passengers receive a Champagne welcome, then tour the main hall, dining room, library and sitting rooms as well as other public areas that are seen in the TV series.
But don't expect to see Mrs. Patmore's kitchen downstairs. Instead you'll find a display of Egyptian antiquities collected by the 5th Earl of Carnavon, who, with Howard Carter, excavated and opened King Tut's tomb. (The video above made by Viking includes much of the history as well as some of the rooms at the castle.)
The excursion is offered with the 12-day Cities of Light river cruise (starting at $2,956 per person, double occupancy) between Paris and Prague or on the eight-day Paris and the Heart of Normandy cruise (starting at $1,856 per person, double occupancy) between Paris, Rouen and Normandy.
When: Cruises depart March through November, but the excursion is available on selected dates.
Price: $1,399 per person, double occupancy, for the land excursion only. It includes transportation, lodgings and breakfasts. International airfare and cruises cost extra.
Info: Viking River Cruises, (800) 706-1483, or contact a travel agent.
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