Dine and Dream
I read in the US press that “Downton Abbey” is the one place in the world where people most dream of staying. Despite the end of the TV series, the love for our home – the “Real Downton Abbey” and love for the fictional characters from Lady Mary to Carson, seems to endure. Fans continue to enjoy the stories and beautiful cinematography with friends via box sets, or when it is shown again on TV through various platforms.
We welcome guests on tours and have hosted a few dinners and, in fact, very occasionally offered a night staying at the Castle for a couple of people. It has, however, always been as part of our private support for a charity and each time has raised a lot of money, which is brilliant. My new bright idea is to ask if anyone would like to experience what it is like to dine and stay here – at Highclere – or its alter ego “Downton Abbey” as part of our own initiative.
In the UK, Downton is repeated on ITV whilst of course in the USA it was shown and is repeated on PBS. PBS was without doubt the right platform for us, but it was above all a great success for PBS, a franchise operation funded through donations. The sponsor was Viking Cruises who also partner with us for special pre- and post-cruise tours, which give privileged access for their guests.
Travelling in the USA I gathered that “Downton” fans held dinner parties on Sunday evenings in January and February after which they would enjoy the next Downton episode. Whilst I cannot conjure another new episode this January and February, (out of my remit!), perhaps it is possible to ask you to conjure up some “Downton Abbey” style dinner parties.
Choose a date this February, invite your friends to your home, and perhaps cook some of my recipes. Maybe design the evening to raise some money for your favourite charity or donate to PBS itself – however there is no requirement to do this, it is entirely your choice. Decide what you are going to wear and how you are going to set the table. The latter can be a matter of contention and a friend staying over New Year reminded me of an article in the Sunday Times about setting the table. What is the right way to do it and how should you arrange the glasses?
We have created some videos introducing various aspects of how we hold a dinner party here at Highclere. For example how my husband and Luis our butler choose the wines, or how Paul the chef and I discuss the menus, how Luis likes to set the table and how I create the flower arrangements. These videos will be rolled out in the community section of the website each week, starting from January 11th.
We have called this idea Come and Dine – enjoy, entertain and experience. I hope you might find it fun. Then, when you have held your dinner party, send in your photos and we will pick the winner. You and your lucky guests (total of eight people) will fly over, dine, and stay in the Castle so that when you wake up from your dreams and open the shutters, you too can look out over the Arcadian parkland of the Real Downton Abbey.
As ever our wonderful friends Viking Cruises are supporting us and will sponsor the flights and transport to get here. Your first night will begin at The Vineyard Hotel, an awarding-winning Relais et Chateaux 5 star hotel and will include dinner and a wine tasting. The following day you will arrive at the Castle in time for afternoon tea, to change for dinner, enjoy cocktails and a tour, have dinner and stay the night. The next morning you can enjoy breakfast under the great portrait of Charles I by Sir Anthony van Dyck just like Lord Grantham or in real life just like Lord Salisbury, Sir John A Macdonald, the Prince of Wales or Henry James. We look forward to welcoming you and to receiving lots of photographs.
Lady Carnarvon with Karine Hagen from Viking Cruises
For further details, see the Community section which clarifies the terms and conditions. We will let you know who the judges will be! I may well be one and I think dinners are about good food, detail, laughter and friendship thus it all leads to much enjoyment! To quote the playwright Oscar Wilde “after a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.” I am sure the Dowager Lady Grantham would have said as much …
I am just enchanted with your idea of an elegant dinner party, especially the part about perhaps doing this as a charitable event. I’m already planning who I’ll select to take part in this evening. My husband and I are accustomed to hosting casual dinner parties, but this will be an exciting challenge to take on.
We are looking forward to taking part in this glorious idea of a “Downton Abbey” dinner party. I love to plan and host our friends and relatives in our home for a wonderful evening of good food and good conversation.
I look forward to participating in this event and also reading your advice and hints on various aspects of hosting an elegant dinner party.
Thank you for keeping the world updated of the goings on at Highclere. We enjoy all of the personal updates about your yearly events held there.
Thank you – a way of cheering up February! I am a huge fan of PBS and thought that might be a good resource to support if you are in the USA, Canada etc. However, in Europe or the UK it is entirely up to any participant… it would be great fun to then film some of the dinner party here. I will definitely have some runner up prizes as well!!!
Hello Lady Carnarvon, it’s Joanna here, I met you at you beautiful Christmas cocktail party in December, it was a pleasure to meet you, and I do hope to be able to do some work with you during 2018 or at the least attend some of your events……I remember at the cocktail party we chatted about the Lady Almina book which I just loved, for Christmas I received the Lady Catherine book…I devoured it in a week and finished it yesterday, you write so well and bring the history and its characters so to life, I just loved it…..thank you so much! I did say in person and would like to reiterate….your husband is a lucky man! 🙂 I really look forward to connecting with you in person again during 2018, in particular I’m interested about what you mentioned when we chatted re the the preparations ……..it would be so amazing to be able to assist you with this in some way……in the meantime, my very best regards to you for a wonderful 2018, warm regards, Joanna. (PS. I was the South African you met at the Christmas cocktail function…I also now have your christmas decoration hanging on my christmas tree :))
This idea is so exciting! You mentioned it to us on our visit in November. I was interested then and even more so now! Can’t wait for details. My thinking cap is on.
MINE, TOO !!!!
Oh goodness!! My mind is spinning with ideas for a dinner party now! The only problem being that in my mind I’m imagining a cosy fireplace dinner scene, yet I’m in Melbourne Australia and February is our hottest month! Lol! I’d better put my thinking cap on!
What a fab idea……..I hope to see some of the wonderful photos I’m sure you’ll get from all over the world! Cathy
It could be set outside too – there is a lovely scene at the end of the first series of Downton before the announcement of the First World War, or there is a cricket match scene and I think you have rather put us in our place with the cricket at the moment (I won’t hold it against you!)!!!
I wasn’t going to mention the cricket…… 😉 My family has been glued to every test match!
And yes, an outside dinner party! I have the perfect spot!
Thankyou for your lovely blog and the beautiful photos. I so look forward to reading.
Very tactful of you !!!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
That’s not just a ‘bright idea”. It’s positively “brilliant “.
A magnificent prize to win, but also a great way of just having fun with one’s friends whilst hopefully raising funds for charity.
Although I am old enough to recall watching Graham Kerr on TV (whilst I was a child), I am no Galloping Gourmet. I probably will watch on from the sidelines and cheer on all fellow bloggers who have genuine aspirations of winning the fabulous prize. However, maybe my wife and daughters can “cook up” something special.
I look forward to watching the videos and reading about the many dinner parties. Good luck to all who take up the challenge.
PS I meant to conclude my above post by quoting Wilde’s Algernon Moncrieff:
“When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that consoles me. Indeed, when I am in really great trouble, as any one who knows me intimately will tell you, I refuse everything except food and drink”.
Dearest Lady Carnarvon,
You set such a magnificent table. I’m sure I will have much to learn, but am excited at the prospects. I must agree with so many others, when I admit Downton Abbey became a household favorite here, and it excites me to think I could plan and execute a formal dinner party with such a wonderful challenge. We recently returned from a trip sponsored by PBS, and we know how much they do for not only adult but child education. Giving back to them would be a wonderful goal for me, personally- and it goes without saying, being at Highclere and meeting you and your family would push the experience over the top. What a Grande Idea!
Regards, Jane Hrabak
Love those pics, and as usual, especially the ones with the puppies. 🙂 This really is a brilliant idea. I can’t wait to watch the videos!
I have previewed the one of setting the table … I think I appreciate the calm preparation – it makes us give time and thought which in this current world of instant messages and beeping seems missing.
And I thought our Downton Dinners and Garden Parties had come to an end. This will make Number 6 over the years, each one different from the last, how exciting!!!!!!!
Good – I don’t think good things should end …
Great ideas – keep them coming. You are looking terrific! Love your hair . . . Terry
Your bright idea is marvelous, Lady Carnarvon! My sons watched Sesame Street on PBS many years ago, and I enjoyed every season of Downton. The Downton aftershow with Ernie Manouse of Houston PBS and St. John Flynn was always fabulous and fun. Giving back to PBS and visiting Highclere with friends would be a dream come true!
Now that I own your amazing book At Home at Highclere, I can prepare your recipes at home and host a lovely dinner party. I especially enjoyed seeing your version of Eggs Benedict. It’s my all-time favorite brunch dish. I look forward to trying all of them!
Brilliant! What a great way to give back to our communities, educate on how historic dinner parties were created as well as offering your enchanting home as a prize! I, as many Americans, loved Downton Abbey but I’m certain that as we get to know you and your family we are equally as charmed and admirable of you. You are doing wonderful things and with such a philanthropic spirit. This Texan with British roots, will certainly pass the word on and will look forward to seeing all your creative ideas grow into the next “great thing”. Thank you for all you are doing to help others and for keeping history alive. Sincerely, Your admirers in Houston, Texas.
I have so enjoyed my visits to Texas – Houston in fact and I have been promised the chance to ride in the rodeo pageant – perhaps not bareback!!! So I hope I will be back.
Thank you for you commments.
What a wonderful idea and thank you for another exciting blog.
Over the years PBS has enthralled us with so many British series and educational shows. My children watched Sesame Street many years ago .
I’m originally from England now living in Phoenix, Arizona. PBS programs keep me in touch with my home land. I volunteer at my local PBS station and try to support public television.
I’m proud to say I was the Grand Prize winner of the PBS Sweepstakes in 2014 and was at Highclere for the proms and Heroes of Highclere Day. Meeting you and Lord Carnarvon at the brunch was the highlight of our trip.
Thank you again for writing such warm, heartfelt stories.
Oh my goodness – how lovely to hear from you! They have stopped the sweepstake but I thought this was different and anyone can join, we have never offered this before so I hope it might lead to a few dinner parties! Viking Cruises are a great family company and share the values of enjoyment, enrichment through travel, it is the pageantry of life… I also know PBS’s funding is challenged.
Thank you for responding to my comment. The sweepstakes are on again this year sponsored by Viking. It’s a Cruise to the British Isles, from August 22, 2018 – September 8, 2018, visiting Oxford and Highclere and other scenic ports of call in England.
I did not know that but Viking Cruises are brilliant! I do know Viking have some tours booked in August ….we are open to the public but their tours are given early access.
I am so much in love with Highclere Castle ever since becoming a fan of Downton Abbey. Your beautiful home and grounds have been on our bucket list ever since the show ended. We dreamed of sailing on a Viking River Cruise after seeing their commercials before the show started. We made that dream a reality having just returned recently from our very first sailing. We will sail again with Viking because it was truly an amazing experience. My dream is to meet you one day. Our next Viking Cruise will be one that will allow for us to make a trip to Highclere via: pre or post cruise. I love this idea for us to “Dine and Dream” and I love to have a reason to entertain and have good friends over. I am going to try to put my plans in motion and set a date for 8. I enjoy reading your blogs so much keep on writing and thank you for this wonderful idea!!
My daughter and I were so fortunate to visit Highclaire last May (my mother’s day present.) We were delighted to meet you at the end of our tour near the ticket stand. As a lover of history and all things British, the visit took our minds through many generations. This Christmas, we re-enjoyed the PBS series while enjoying a small tea party. Many thanks for sharing your home with the public!
Lori Davis Nour
No problem – did you cook some scones for tea?
What a dream come true that would be! So very gracious of you to offer this, wish I could participate but I am alone in my obsession with Highclere. My husband entertained me 2 years ago and took us to UK just to see Highclere, one of the best days of my life but unfortunately no pictures were allowed inside. Whoever wins is very lucky indeed.
You will have to link up with other fans!
Oh, Lady Carnarvon, your idea is stellar! My husband, Perry, and I were fortunate enough to win a charity auction in 2014 for a “cookery lesson” with Chef Paul and Chef Rob in your kitchens. In July of 2015 we enjoyed a wonderful morning cooking with those two young men (they did the actual cooking … ) and then, an honor we’ll never forget, lunch with you and Lord Carnarvon, sampling the “fruits of our labors”. We live in the country here in Michigan, and this will be a challenge since there are few Downton Abbey fanatics near us, but we might have to try. Again, kudos for a truly grand idea!
Thank you – please tell your friends – February is dinner party month!!!
Another brilliant idea inspired by Highclere, Lady Carnarvon. I can imagine the scenes from Downton Abbey rolling through Julian’s mind the moment he set eyes on Highclere Castle, and the pea gravel crunching under his feet as he approached the main entrance surely gave him pause for the many scenes of the Abbey staff lined up as they received their well heeled guests from London and beyond. I was inspired to write a script myself, based upon what else, a weekend at Highclere.
My script is in today’s setting, and I’m still composing my invitation list. Being that Downton Abbey is responsible for awakening the sleeping Anglophile in me, the cast including Julian is at the top of my list if it were me planning an event at Highclere, and perhaps HRH Prince William and his lovely family! Isn’t imagination a lovely thing on a dreary day in Nashville. As I prepare my dinner party which will be in a seaside setting, I’m wondering how many you usually seat for dinner, so I can plan accordingly? Jumping back to Highclere, I’m most excited about the breakfast! It’s my favorite meal of the day, the first smell of the coffee, the beautiful long views of rolling fields of chartreuse, and the fresh shining faces in the great morning light there is enough to inspire me to start going through your recipes to plan my beachside brunch as though the Granthams are waking n Brighton Beach!
You make me want to join you!!!
I have been looking for a reason to host another Downton Abbey style dinner party and here it is!! I am already planning the menu–last time I used Escoffier and other sources of the period to plan our twelve course dinner. This time I’ll be using your recipes and certainly will include the Filets de Sole Mornay as the fish course. Our guests at our last dinner are all devoted fans of Downton Abbey; one of the couples was lucky enough to have visited Highclere two years ago, while another couple has visited the exhibit in New York City. Everyone that attended our last dinner has accepted our invitation with great enthusiasm. We are all looking forward to enjoying another wonderful evening together. (My daughter and granddaughter are even looking forward to serving!) Thank you for this marvelous opportunity and for giving us something to brighten our dreary winter season.
It sounds lovely ! I love fish..
What a fabulous idea: a formal dinner party a la Highclere /Downton Abbey! Perhaps even with attire from the 1900s, and in February when Carnivale will be in full swing before Greek Lent (by February 19 this year). You have inspired us to begin making plans… perhaps finding an old mansion setting, and a group of 10 or 12 friends and Downton fans. I”ll use your wonderful “Entertaining” recipes and fine Greek wines. You know, the Greeks love to gather for feasting, as Homer said in the Odyssey:
“…there is no greater fulfillment of delight than when joy possesses a whole people, and banqueters in the hall listen to a minstrel as they sit in order due, and by them tables are laden with bread and meat, and the cup-bearer draws wine from the bowl and bears it round and pours it into the cups. This seems to my mind the fairest thing there is. “
How lovely – it sounds so romantic ! I think I will have to create a gallery of dinners!
Such a wonderful Idea! I am going to attempt to do this. I really enjoy your blog and would really love to visit one of these days!
I hope you will visit
Good – have fun!
Although I can not participate as I do not have enough space in my apartment my thoughts are with you all. Wouldn’t it be amazing if a dinner party included servers in full regalia, serving the guests as they did in Downton Abbey? (Just a thought;)
Dear Lady Carnarvon, you are brilliant. I am a member of WLIW, which is a Long Island based PBS station, and just so happens we will be coming to Highclere in June, and part of the trip is a luncheon at HighClere in the splendid dining room. This will be my second trip to Highclere, and I hope this time will have the great pleasure of meeting you in person, especially after partaking in so many of your wonderful blogs. We will be having two Downton Abbey Dinners, at our home before we come, just to celebrate the trip. Until June, keep up the great work. Desiree Creary.
Wonderful please hold one of them in February, encourage your friends and send in the photos .. it is light relief against a stormy world in every sense.
What a great idea. We had a pre screen at the Queen Mary here in CA that I was invited to… I believe it was season 5 if I remember right. Lots of photos from there 🙂 People always tell me, if you want to find Kristyl, find the dogs…ha!!! So, if you want someone to be sitting on the floor playing with your pups… you can call me late for dinner xo… Highclere looks amazing. Love that you do your own flowers. I went to school both for Culinary Arts, and also Floristry. Had a small catering business for a while, so really appreciate all the presentation! I always followed the client’s requests… which were never as formal as I would have them…:D:D:D… so I took to setting up a table in the back for the help for dinner… which put the main dining to shame… OMGosh… we had to hide from the guests. One got in once and I told them that my theory was “I want to keep my good help!” Plus, we could always sneak the animals in. Till we meet… hold the fort xoxo
I enjoy picking and arranging flowers – it is never perfect and I always think I could do better, but that is life.
What a fantastic idea !! You always amaze me with who you are and how you care so much of others. Great pictures always !! Sounds like a wonderful time for all. Good Luck to everyone participating.
Thank you again Lady Carnarvon !!
I look forward to your photos!!!
Enjoy the guest
I will very much enjoy the company of the lucky winners I hope Karine will be here form Viking and of course Finse, her beloved yellow labrador
Dear Lady Carnarvon:
Happy New Year. Before I sign on to my computer to pull up your blog at the beginning of each week –I get excited because I can’t wait to see what your blog has to offer. I am currently reading “Lady Catherine and the Real Downton Abbey’ and I am quite enjoying it as much as ” Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey” and I thought just for a moment that I feel lucky to live and experience the 8th Lady Carnarvon in “real time.” And now this very exciting adventure for lack of a proper term which involves the public, us readers, with a chance to not only visit and meet you but the spend an evening and a night at Highclere!! This sort of event, is a once in a life time opportunity to participate in the history!! It will be fun to watch perhaps a video of the winning entrants and also to read about their experience.
I love PBS for all the British programming that they bring us viewers across the pond!
All the best and good luck to all the entrants.
Thank you – I enjoyed writing Catherine! PBS does enrich and entertain ..
DEAR LADY CARNARVON
GOOD IDEA, BRAVO. BEAUTIFUL.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
May I ask if this wonderful idea of yours is only open to people from overseas. The reason I ask, is that I am currently staying in a delightful manor house in Worcestershire until the end of February, and it would be the perfect setting for such an event. I am even thinking of flying over at the same time my daughter who sings for NZ Opera, just to add another dimension to the evening.
It is open to you where ever you are – the more the merrier
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
This blog post is marvelous and the contest is so exciting! I would dearly love to participate and I will think about having my own dinner party. I would love to debut a new recipe or two from your book as well. Your idea is ingenious and Viking Cruises was so generous in helping make this dream reality. I moved into my new home a year ago, and as of yet have not entertained eight of my friends and family. This may be a dream for me, but if you don’t have your dreams, what do you have? I love entertaining and I will consider the possibility of putting in my bid. One never knows what could happen. Even if I don’t participate, I will be excited for the winner. It is a lovely contest and it would be so wonderful for any person who loves Highclere Castle to win. February is usually a dull month anyway, why not liven it up? Food for thought indeed. (pardon the pun, Lady Carnarvon)
My compliments on this fine idea,
Ann Catherine Flood
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Upon reflection, I don’t believe I will enter your wonderful contest. My entry would not do it justice. My dinner party would be very nice, but it would not be (I quote Evelyn Waugh here) “very Highclere.” I bring to mind the words of Carson, the butler of Downton Abbey, who constantly stressed that at a house such as Downton, standards MUST be maintained. I fear my efforts would fall “short of the mark.” Thank you for the lovely opportunity to enter this contest. I entrust you, Lady Carnarvon, to uphold the standards of a grand estate. (smiling)
Ann C. Flood
Although there are moments of grandeur in Downton Abbey, Highclere really is a working home with so many people who enjoy living and working here every day. I would truly love to see photos of your dinner party, it is the people who make the party after all! Hopefully “Come and Dine” will be a light-hearted thing for people such as yourself to do, and perhaps brighten your February (and January from the excitement of planning) while enjoying a delicious dinner!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Just purchased your new book about entertaining and have been loving it! Would love to see a blog post about all the china that you use and of course the new set that was just made. Who made it ?
Sylvain, 23, Canada
Thank you so much – note your point – great idea Febraury if dinner party month so I will!
Me and my family had booked a trip to high clere castle in April .
Are you going to be there then ?
And how is it to live in the castle ?
What did you recommend us to looking at ? In High clere ?
There is so much to see daffodils and cherry trees, I am around quite a a bit in April. Normally to be found heading for a little coffee!
Somehow this email got squashed between many others that came in while I was away. Now I understand the invitation blog that came later. I plan on participating in the February fun and will send photos! What an amazing opportunity. Thank you!
Luis! Such a great guy! On my trip to England this past summer I stopped at Highclere Castle for a visit and had high tea there. I was so surprised in finding out Luis the butler was Portuguese!!!! We had a great time talking about Portugal and all his experiences with “Downton Abbey”. Please say Hi to him!
I’ll be cooking a birthday fest in two weeks with your recipes! There are too many excellent options to narrow it down at this point. But, you’ll get all the credit!
Your book has been a great read and a surprising source of comfort since the end of Downton Abbey. It’s reassuring to an American like me that you were there before and after such a wonderful show.
Any thoughts on best global wine pairings for parties? I’ve seen your husband has posted a few videos from the cellar, but we all know you’re the true party planner, and I’m curious of your favorites!
Best, from Texas!
It was very nice meeting you on our Viking excursion. Thank you for all of the background on Highclere castle, also being warm and personable. You made the trip so much more than we could have ever expected. I wish you and your family many long years ahead.
How very kind – thank you
Dear Lady Carnavon
This was a fantastic idea, although I apologise for my tardiness in spotting it and responding.
I had the immense pleasure of coming to your wonderful home for a charity night, involving the wonderful Julian Fellowes. Such an amazing house and grounds, and I cannot wait to visit again.
If you ever host dinners there, with a stay in your wonderful home…..I will be front of the queue (which I am sure will be long).
Very best regards to you both
Thank you – I think it has given much pleasure and I hope to see if we could again convene together next February too.