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London: Party at Highclere Castle's 'Downton'-style Christmas gala

Travel agency offers London tour that includes a Christmas gala at the real-life 'Downton Abbey' castle

Imagine driving up the winding entrance to "Downton Abbey" and being welcomed at the entrance to a very special Christmas ball. Then you enter the grand salon that's been in countless episodes of the PBS TV series and sip a little Champagne before tucking into a three-course meal.

The "Downton" part is fictional -- Lord Grantham and Lady Mary will be nowhere in sight -- but the December gala isn't. It all happens at the real-life Highclere Castle, where there's the possibility that the resident Earl and Countess of Carnavon (whose family has lived here since the 17th century) may pop by too.

The posh party is the centerpiece of a one-time-only tour from Friendly Planet Travel that begins Dec. 11. The Victorian castle on 1,000 acres in Newbury just west of London has become as much of a smash hit on the British tourist scene as has been on the small screen.

The tour spends four nights in London with a bus that shuttles you to the Highclere event. Guests will be treated to a tour of the castle along with the Champagne reception and three-course dinner with wine. Afterward all are invited to stay for caroling around the Christmas tree.

Participants spend the rest of their time loose in London, seeing the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, taking a spin on the London Eye and visiting the British Museum and the Tate.

Prices start at $2,399 per person, double occupancy, if booked by Sept. 2; $2,699 per person after that date. The tour includes lodgings and round-trip airfare from New York in the price; $200 more per person for passengers flying from Los Angeles.

Info: Friendly Planet Travel's Downton Abbey Christmas Ball With London, (800) 555-5765



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