Perhaps no other show on television has better captured the reality of 20th century aristocratic life in England than Downton Abbey. The creator, Julian Fellowes managed to capture our enthusiasm with its award-winning costumes, historical accuracy, and attention to even the most precise of details. The very first time I watched it I was obsessed. For those of you who don’t follow the series, Downton was a historical, true to life drama filmed at Highclere Castle, a country house located in the English town of Newbury in Berkshire.
I remember eagerly anticipating Sunday nights for the newest show, and as they are now playing repeats I get to watch them all over again with equally as much joy. There are so many reasons to love "Downton Abbey"—the historical details, the costumes and the interesting characters. It was a series that brought the past to the present, so that viewers could get a taste of the early 1900s. But what we loved so much about it was the fact that although the people were from the past, they were relatable to today. The storylines seemed to ring true with so many situations that even I personally have faced and as viewers we could all relate to at least one of the family members or storylines. The history of the series also mimicked the real life history of the Castle in which it was filmed and I think many of the facts in the show were written by the creator Julian Fellows,( a friend of the owners) to reflect real events.
As the filming of the show had ended and not wanting to loose it altogether I decided to take a small group of Downton Abbey Fans on a pilgrimage to the Castle where the show was filmed.
Highclere Castle sits on an estate that totals 6,000 acres. The castle covers 30,000 square feet and has a total of 300 rooms, with approximately 61 of these being bedrooms on the upper floors. Approximately 50 of those rooms were uninhabitable as of 2009. Now with the money from filming, along with the many visitors to the castle they have been able to considerably improve it and restore it to its former glory. Highclere has been home to several generations of the Carnarvon Family and is rich in its own history and family drama.
The current Lord and Lady Carnarvon (Geordie and Fiona to their friends) have discovered that allowing the cast and crew to infiltrate their home and grounds provides gains that are not merely financial.
“The best part has been sharing this romantic castle and home with so many people from around the world,” Lady Carnarvon said. “And ‘Downton’ has helped revitalize an interest in history.”
It's a bit of an invasion, she said. “The thick wires and cables snaking everywhere, the cameras, the trollies, the white vans obscuring the drives and the dust that collects as a result.” Her advice to anyone who’s thinking of letting their own home become an onscreen one? “Have a good sense of humour!”
In the first world war and in similarity to the TV show Lady Almina, the Fifth Countess of Carnarvon, willingly opened her home to the injured. What’s more, she offered her services as a nurse and became quite skilled. The house still has many of the letters on display from soldiers and their parents thanking her for her hospitality. Of course if you are a fan of the TV show you may recall that Lord Grantham wasn’t too pleased at opening their home to wounded soldiers and put up quite a fuss.
During World War II, Highclere Castle also became a home for evacuated children who had been shipped out to the countryside from blitz-weary London.
Another true and interesting fact is that The Fifth Earl of Carnarvon, George Herbert, was one of the explorers to uncover King Tut’s tomb with Howard Carter in 1922. The Earl brought back a number of artifacts with him to Highclere. He died less than a year after the discovery after accidentally shaving an infected mosquito bite. His death led to the rumour of “The Mummy’s Curse” for opening the tomb and disturbing Tut’s rest. His poor dog also died at the same moment he did.
You would never think that in the basement of this stately mansion would sit these kind of artifacts from King Tuts Tomb.
Our trip was not only visiting Highclere castle but included many of the Royal Castles and places associated with the British Monarchy such as the wonderful Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum which are both free to enter and even Windsor Castle which was the recent setting for the marriage of Harry and Meghan.
I had looked forward to seeing Highclere Castle the most so when we pulled up at the gates I was so excited I asked the driver just to stop briefly so we could get some great pictures. At the time we are taking lots of quick photos we heard a Beep Beep from a car. I looked behind the bus and there was a minivan trying to get past us.
I didn’t pay too much attention as I knew we wouldn’t be long and thought to myself, oh let them wait just a minute … hmmm that was a bad bad idea as it turned out to be the Earl himself sitting in the back and whom we were joining for a cocktail party that evening… ooops,
I rushed over and apologized profusely and got the bus to move pronto!
Later that evening we arrived for a champagne cocktail reception and luckily the Earl had forgiven me the intrusion earlier and greeted us warmly. He’s quite shy but did make a speech to welcome everyone and then the Lady Fiona personally took us on a tour.
The interior is incredible. I love everything from the Great Hall to the kitchen downstairs. Not all of the filming is done at Highclere but the main upstairs scenes and of course the iconic exterior is the same.
We learnt that many of the props shown in Downton have a story at Highclere. The bells in the kitchen of Downton Abbey are replicas of the kitchen bells at Highclere – each of which has a distinctive pitch so the servants know which room is calling without having to look. And Lord Grantham’s mahogany desk in the living room actually belonged to Napoleon!
Highclere is just one of the many movie or TV sets that you can visit in the UK. Including Edinburgh where Outlander is filmed and Devon where Doc Martin is filmed in the beautiful coastal village.
The best time to visit England is in either in the spring or early fall to get the best possible chance of reasonable weather and fewer crowds.
Our Dollar isn’t too bad against the Pond just now so it will not feel to astronomically expensive is it has in the past.
We will be visiting the Castles and Royal sights again in the future as there is so much to see.
Each year you head south for the warm sunshine and white sand beaches to escape the harsh Canadian winter... but have you ever yearned to fill your culture cup and explore places much farther afield?
This week I am in Thailand. The flight was long and on paper it certainly looked daunting, however on long haul flights the food is certainly much better, the seats recline quite well even in economy and typically the longest stretch of the journey will be over night so you can sleep. Then when you wake up you watch a couple of recently released movies, work with the plane wifi if you want to and then you are there...Traveling east you usually will avoid the worst jet lag too so your vacation begins right away!
Thailand is love at first sight. It is unlike anywhere else on the planet. Starting with its People, the Thais are one of the most gentle, graceful and hospitable peoples on Earth. Locals and foreigners alike, one is always
greeted with the warmest hospitality and the most genuine of smiles, hence dubbed “The Land of Smiles” that Thailand has been long reputed for. Thailand, one of the most beautiful destinations in south-east Asia, has been a favourite of mine for decades.
Sink into a swaying hammock with a fresh coconut in your hand, gaze at the beach, and consider going for a swim in the clear turquoise water, or exploring the nearby gilt-topped temple complex.
The food is loved all over the world but the real Thai Food will explode your taste buds as you discover that your local favourite Thai restaurant pales in comparison to every meal in Thailand.
I started my Thailand journey as most do, in Bangkok.
Bangkok is a busy, cosmopolitan, spiritual, hotpot of cultures, tourists, food stalls and shopping. It may not be the prettiest location in Thailand, but it’s the nation’s capital and is home to an incredible amount of history, culture, architecture, and FOOD.
Bangkok is all about food. You’ll never stop eating here, but the sheer variety can be overwhelming! To get a deeper appreciation of Thai food, take a food tour All food tours include a variety of mouth-watering food tastings (enough for lunch and dinner), from Thai and ethnic specialty eateries, renowned street food stalls, to historic fine dining restaurants.
How about a cooking class?...I took a Thai Cooking class at the world famous Blue Elephant and it was fabulous. The chef/owner of 38 years demonstrates first then you each get to make the dish. Then they taste it and if you are in a group they judge the best one and give amazing prizes. One of the best cooking classes I have ever done. Such fun! All for just over $100 a person and you keep the apron and come away with gifts! Excellent value.
A place you should visit in Bangkok is the Grand Palace (Royal Palace) and neighbouring Wat Pho, home to the famous reclining Buddha and massage school. The Royal family doesn’t live in the palace (it’s only used for official state functions) and
you can’t go into any of the buildings, but wandering the grounds and open temples is worth the visit. It’s beautiful and the craftsmanship in the architecture is amazing. Go first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds. Afterwards, wander down the street to Wat Pho and the famous reclining Buddha (as well as the famous Golden Buddha). The Wat Pho complex fills a city block so while seeing the statues doesn’t take long, you could spend a solid hour wandering the maze-like temple grounds.
Next, head across the river to Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) and get stellar views of the city from atop the temple. It’s my favourite temple in the city because of the view!
Take a tour of the Chao Phraya river, a relaxing and beautiful experience that shouldn’t be skipped.You can enjoy a half-day visit to the floating markets around the city (Khlong Lat Mayom and Thaling Chan are the two most popular). It makes for a filling morning adventure and if you get there early, you can avoid a lot of the crowds.
After a fast paced culture filling three days on Bangkok I opt for a beach break. With hundreds of beautiful tropical islands, Thailand has no shortage of fine beach resorts. Most of the luxury beach resorts can be found on the islands of Koh Samui and Phuket.
The best prices for accommodation can be found during Thailand’s low season, which not surprisingly also coincides with the region’s monsoon season.
Resorts in Thailand are apt for the perfect getaway from the hectic city life of Thailand. Located mainly on the shores of azure blue waters these resorts feature views that are a treat your eyes.
Featuring infinity pools, fine dining restaurants, private beaches and state of the art Thai spas, each resort out does the other.
These properties are nothing like the ones you typically find flying south, they offer guests the chance to enter a realm of opulence and style in the warmness of Thailand's tropical climate. With its perfect weather, perfect beaches and extensive list of perfect attractions and fabulous food.
The island of Phuket has long been one of Thailand’s star attractions—especially since making a significant comeback from the devastating tsunami that hit the area in 2004. It’s where you’ll find some of the country’s most beautiful beaches, and travellers are spoiled for choice when it comes to luxury resorts that rival any others in Southeast Asia. Many of the best resorts on Phuket not only make use
of the natural surroundings (snorkelling, scuba diving and kayaking are all popular pursuits in this part of the Andaman Sea) but enhance it with design that works seamlessly with the island’s lush landscape and oceanfront setting. Strung along the western coast like jewels, this island should be a must do on your Asia visit.
Still fresh from its 2014 opening, Anantara’s newest Phuket property (the other, Anantara Mai Khao, lies 40 minutes south) manages a perfect balance of jungle-shrouded seclusion and spot-on service with sleek, modern design. The glamorous result feels like something out of a James Bond movie—especially at the resort’s just-completed Residence Villas. The mini compounds, each self-contained and consisting of villas with three to seven bedrooms, sit high on the property’s hillside overlooking Layan Beach and the Andaman Sea. The views alone make it difficult to leave, but with their own private infinity-edge pools and 24-hour butler service, there’s really no need to. From only $160/night you will see the excellent value of these properties compared to similar down south.
While you stay in Phuket you really must visit Phang Nga Bay. You will know it perhaps as James Bond Island.
Phang Nga Bay is a remarkable sanctuary of some 60 towering limestone outcrops, some of which have collapsed in the centre to form hongs (huge hollowed rooms with sunlight above) that are usually accessible at low tide. The water around here is emerald green and the whole area is simply breathtaking, even if the scene sometimes resembles a regatta.
Most tours will include a visit to the very touristy floating Muslim village of Koh Panyi.
Here are some travel facts. Getting to Thailand can cost as little as $900 on a good airline such as Air Canada or Emirates. Then add the hotels which can be very reasonable you will find that a week can actually cost you not much more than a week in Mexico. I priced out recently for a honeymoon couple a flight in Premium Class, villa with its own pool for 9 nights and two excursions all for under $4000 a person and this was super high end.
A 5 star beautiful beach resort coupled with the Marriott Marquis in Bangkok where I stayed (which I loved) will cost from just $1800 including flight from Toronto and Buffet breakfast daily. Meals are typically from just $10 to eat well. Street food is famous here and will cost even less.
I urge anyone to take the time to explore this wonderful area as it really is so different from anything you may have seen before, beautiful, interesting and will fill your culture cup to overflowing!
For More information and to book your Thailand Trip or any vacation you would like call Lorraine Simpson on 289-273-8095 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If the never ending snow is getting you down and and the amount of time you’ve already spent looking for lost gloves has you fearing winter in Ontario, it may time to plan a warm and sunny getaway.
Antigua is an island in the Caribbean that offers the perfect antidotes to the Ontario winter woes:
As a travel consultant one of the perks of this job is that I get to visit some pretty spectacular places to experience them first hand so I can tell my clients.
When I visited Antigua it was love at first sight! I was blown away by the translucent waters of turquoise and azure that looks photoshopped, miles of soft white sand, and all the rum punches, daiquiris, and pina coladas you can drink. Visitors get all this and more on Antigua, 108 square miles’ worth of tropical beauty located just over a four and half hour flight from Toronto. There are 9 direct flights a week currently and starting as low as $420 per person it is certainly accessible to all of us.
The Caribbean was slammed with several hurricanes in 2017 and Antigua was narrowly avoided by the worst leaving it in perfect shape to welcome visitors searching for Caribbean sunshine and vitamin SEA!.
This is not the kind of island where you have to fight for towel space with blitzed college students. For one thing, there are 365 beaches here, which means there are plenty of places to chill for everyone. This beautiful isle specializes in laid-back luxury and honeymoon-worthy resorts, attracting travellers who like their tropical vacations to have a refined vibe.
Antigua is a land of sea and sun, and there are lots of fun ways to take full advantage of both. Spend time on the water: snorkel to see the colourful fish and inhabitants of the reefs, sail or deep sea fish. Beach time should also be high on your to-do list as it is balm for the winter-weary soul (and good for Vitamin D levels, though of course, use sunscreen!). Play in the sand, splash in the water and soak up the sunshine.
Antigua is just nine miles by 12 but feels larger, and one place not to miss is English Harbour. This was awarded World Heritage List status last year for its Georgian-era naval dockyards, and you can admire the massive stone pillars that survive from its great sail loft built in 1797. Nelson was based here and it’s a charming place to visit that combines a national park with a lively harbour reflecting Antigua’s role as the winter capital of the yachting world.Today, the Georgian buildings have been restored and some are still used for maritime purposes like sail making. Visitors can see those as well as modern-day yachts anchored in the harbour and the juxtaposition of past and present is striking. The tour and museum are well done, and also brief enough to keep kids interested.
Messing about on the water is an essential activity here, whether it’s stand-up paddle-boarding or an exhilarating day trip to feel what it’s like to be part of a crew racing a 40ft yacht.
Most resorts offer complimentary non-motorised watersports while memorable excursions include a catamaran cruise to snorkel at the beautiful Cades Reef and a trip to Stingray City Antigua to get in the water with these gracefully flapping creatures.
Inland there’s hiking and biking and zip-lining, while on Sunday afternoon everyone heads to the panoramic Shirley Heights Lookout for a barbecue with steel pan music.
This is a very sociable, family-friendly island where people will happily talk cricket all day, and are masters at showing visitors a good time.
Take full advantage of nature in Antigua. Check out Indian Town National Park which features Devil’s Bridge, a limestone arch that has been created by centuries of pounding by ocean waves; and hike through the rainforest - The vegetation will make you forget that it’s winter back home.
How to get there..
with 9 direct flights a week and many more with one short connection getting there is a breeze. I even have a free stay to giveaway. If you go to my Facebook page conciergetravelgroup and like my page then share it with your friends we will be running a Facebook competition to give away a free stay on this beautiful island.
Another great way to travel for free is to invite your friends and family. Organizing a group will always give the organizer a free space so grab your buddies and lets get your group booked to one of the many beautiful resorts and you can go free!
Where to stay
One of my favourites is the Adults only Cocos.
It really is a wonderfully romantic spot.The beautiful couples-only resort is perched on a secluded ocean bluff – meaning there are spectacular, Instagram-worthy views everywhere you turn.
The vibe of the charming, family-run hotel is very much unpretentious chic. There are 30 rustic wooden cottages in total, each with its own private veranda, large bathroom with his'n'hers sinks, and an outdoor shower. All of them are clean, comfortable and feature dark wooden floors, crisp white linens and a well-stocked fridge, but if it's a special occasion I'd recommend splashing out – and splashing around - in the signature Sunset Plunge Pool Cottage, where there's a private infinity pool…
The all-inclusive Blue Waters Resort in Soldiers Bay has just had a $2 million makeover and is set in 17 acres of tropical gardens with a spa and kids’ club, plus an 18-hole golf course five minutes away.
This beautifully-designed resort with 116 rooms and suites that feels so much more intimate. The rooms are charming and well-appointed, the pool and beach sublime and the food superb. But the best part is the feel, with an ambience that takes you back to a Caribbean that’s very hard to find nowadays.
The Verandah is a firm favourite on the island. An oasis of tranquility and amenity located on 30 beachfront acres, The Verandah is the perfect place for a romantic wedding, honeymoon or family getaway. Situated amongst a backdrop of lush green gardens, stunning tropical views and a shimmering turquoise sea, the incredible All-Inclusive blend of engaging activities, delectable cuisine and entertaining nightlife allows you the luxury to do it all, or nothing at all.
When I was there doing a tour they even had my favourite roast suckling pig at lunch!
The food and entertainment is amazing and you wont be disappointed.
for more information visit our website or Facebook page.
Enter the competition to win a free stay for two.
Lorraine is the go to Travel Professional in Niagara Region. her specialty lies mostly in luxury and group travel and as a foodie many of her personally escorted tours involve delicious food and wine.
Contact Lorraine personally to pick her brains about any travel needs you have. Call 905-401-2995
11 years ago I lost someone I loved very dearly to Cancer.
He was the father of my children and we were desperately happy and content. It was very hard for me to manage as a single, broke grieving mother of 4 with no job.I had no time to wallow in my own self pity. I had hungry mouths to feed and bills to pay. Finding a job that offered flexibility and was able to pay me enough was difficult so I decided to buy myself a home based travel franchise. I was able to work from home and utilized my experience in event planning and luxury travel and specialized in planning romantic vacations and Destination Weddings for hundreds of couples in love.
I cherished my job. I made people happy. I met couples in their happiest of times and I had a part in helping them plan the trip of a lifetime. Although I personally was still very sad I found their displayed love and affection comforting and wonderful. I Lived through them and helping to fulfil their romantic dreams made me happy.
I never once thought that I could feel that way again. My heart was irreparably broken I thought and I accepted that as my lot. Sure I kissed a few frogs, met some very nice single men but never really felt the fireworks and butterflies that the romance novels speak of. I fully believed I would stay single forever. ….UNTIL NOW!
I totally get it now! The butterflies.The fireworks, sleeping on his side of the bed if he gets up first, watching the clock till he comes home… and so much more! I am hopelessly and ridiculously in love with all the cliches and Disney comparisons you can throw at me.
Most surprisingly my kids are also loving my relationship. Their only complaint is our regular PDA that they compare us to teenagers and often yell at us ..”Too Much Romance!”
This made me ponder that very thought…as I look into the eyes of the man who has changed my entire world and turned me into a ball of mush I can honestly say there is no such thing as Too much Romance.
For however long I get to feel this way I am the luckiest woman alive. Truly my lottery in life! (I actually call him my lottery win) Its amazing. And to top it all – its MUTUAL! …..Even more lucky!
The way we met was a little unconventional. In fact it was the kids that recognized that there was something special between us when we were still friends and pushed for us to date. “We really like him Mum… You should date him.” I always thought he was too nice, too gentle and caring and my big personality and strong will would crush his… Hahaha how wrong could I be! Our relationship is so good I am afraid to pinch myself in case it is all just a dream.
Recently with the blessing of our 6 kids staying home we departed on a romantic journey of our very own. Our personal Romance Concierge experience. We began in Athens,Greece and ended in the city of Love – Venice. Our vacation was like a honeymoon without the wedding (that comes later, give me time!).
Why can’t a vacation for a couple in love feel like a honeymoon? As a Romance Concierge surely it is my job to seek out those places just for you. During this two week escapade we climbed ruins, visited castles, ate amazing food sharing off each others plates and sought out unique experiences everywhere we went. We stayed at the most amazing hotel I have ever stayed in in Venice called the Venart and tasted amazing gelato everywhere we went.Our trip can be personalized just for you. You can travel in our footsteps and experience all the wonderful things we did first hand for your perfect Romantic vacation.
I now think I am in a better position to really understand what you might be looking for when you are booking your Romantic Journey. This could be a honeymoon, a vacation or even a Destination Wedding but the feeling should be the same…and can never be ” Too Much Romance!”
To get full details of this particular Romantic Journey please contact me