by Candyce Stapen, USA TODAY 9:09 a.m. January 3, 2014
It’s not just the characters who develop when the fourth season of Downton Abbey debuts in the U.S. Jan. 5. The popular series has proved fertile ground for a growing cottage industry of getaways, tours and teas designed for fans of the fictional Crawley family and their real-life setting, Highclere Castle.
In the U.S. followers can:
* Get the gossip from former chauffeur Tom Branson, Sea Island resort, Georgia. Allen Leech, who plays Branson, stars in a Downton Abbey-inspired weekend at the upscale resort along with Jessica Fellowes, author of The World of Downton Abbey.
You can test your series’ knowledge at a quiz; listen to behind-the-scenes tales; and dress up as a Lord, Lady, cook or valet for a costume party, cocktail reception and dinner. On Sunday watch the latest episode with Leech and Fellowes who answer questions, then enjoy cigars and port as well as dancing.
Sea Island, Jan. 17-19, rooms from $395. The third night in January (also in February) costs $8, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the resort’s hosting of the G8 Summit. Most Downton events are complimentary; dinner fees apply.
* Watch episodes in a private screening room and take tea Downton-style, The Langham, Chicago. Invite 11 of your friends to the hotel’s Cinema Suite for marathon sessions of the drama with time out for Champagne afternoon tea. The hotel also hosts a series-inspired afternoon tea, featuring lobster and tarragon pudding tartlets, Charlotte Russe and other Edwardian delights served by white-gloved staff. Cinema Suite, $1299, includes one night’s lodging. Afternoon tea, $40. Both available in January. The Langham,
* Admire the period attire, Winterthur, Wilmington, Del. Aristocrats know how to dress. Costumes of Downton Abbey presents 40 historically inspired pieces from the series. Admire the beading on Lady Mary’s engagement dress, the delicate flow of Lady Sybil’s wedding gown and the barrier-busting swag of Lady Sybil’s harem pants. Winterthur, March 1, 2014-Jan. 4, 2015. $20, admission.
In England, followers can:
* Explore the real Highclere Castle and countryside.
* Extend your river cruise. Viking Cruises offers a three day/two night London and the English countryside land tour that covers Downton Abbey as well as Oxford and London. Available on the eight day Paris and the Heart of Normandy voyage and the 12-day Paris to Prague journey. Viking River Cruises,
* Visit on your own. Book well-in-advance for tickets. The Easter and May tour dates are sold out. Tickets for summer 2014 visits go on sale in February. Check Highclere Castlefor details. About $33, admission to castle, exhibit, gardens.
* Join a tour. Many companies offer day tours from London to Highclere Castle and the Oxfordshire countryside. Arrive like the elite in a chauffeur-driven car or come by bus. Viatour private car, from $228; bus, from $180.