If you're semi-secretly obsessed with "Downton Abbey," from the captivating storyline to the incredible costumes, you are most certainly not alone.
And while the writing and acting are the main stars of the show, the English manor house in which the series is filmed could be considered an additional character, it is so integral to the action, from the division of spaces between the employees and the employers to the major plot point this season which sees the Abbey's main rooms converted to a rehabilitation hospital for injured WWI veterans.
Turns out that the castle is a real place (it's not just a bunch of soundstages), and a real home — at least part-time — for the eighth Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. And you can see it for yourself, next time you are in the English countryside (the castle is located about a hour outside of London).
Highclere Castle, where the popular TV show is set, has always been a draw to tourists who enjoy gawking at 19th-century buildings (I'm one of them), but since the show began, it has doubled its visitors, curious to see where the show is filmed. While all the group tickets for tours are already sold out for 2012, there are individual tickets available, but they do have to be bought in advance. (And yes, they host weddings.)
"It has been amazing," Lady Fiona Carnarvon told CNN. "We have so many e-mails now saying 'We love your home.'" The earl and lady enjoy sharing their home with both the public and the actors from the series, and it's a good thing, as the series has recently been renewed for season 3.
And there's more to Highclere than gorgeous period rooms and a step back in time. Fascinatingly, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, who discovered Tutankhamun's tomb (along with Howard Carter) in 1922, once lived at the castle. An entire Eygyptian exhibit will be open when the doors of Highclere open once again in the spring (after Easter), and visitors can learn about the history of the discovery, as well as check out antiquities from the expedition.
"Admission to visit the house, gardens and the exhibition costs £16 [about $25] for an adult," according to CNN.
(Want to dress in mod-Victorian? Check out my vintage "Downton Abbey" inspired outfits here.)