Tour This Famed English Castle With the Duchess Who Lives There
Whether it's binge-watching episodes of The Crown or eagerly awaiting the new Princess Diana biopic, there's something tantalizing about getting an inside look at British royal life. But if the screen just isn't cutting it, one British royal is opening up her home to a few lucky visitors.
The castle (pronounced "Ann-Nick") gained 21st-century fame as a filming location for both Harry Potter and Downton Abbey. But royal fans will love that it's the second-largest inhabited castle in England, after Windsor.
"There are very few people alive who have built something that's the size of Alnwick Castle," the Duchess told Travel + Leisure. "So, the opportunity to go around the garden and hear about its construction from the horse's mouth is a unique opportunity."
Alnwick has been around for more than 900 years, and the Duchess says she sees "the castle, the bricks and mortar of it, as more important than any duke or duchess." The family does their best to maintain the heritage of the place. But unlike some of Europe's more imposing palaces, Alnwick is still actively used by its family — and it's easy to imagine them there.
In a decadent library with more than 14,000 books, there are also plush beanbag chairs. Family photos are nestled among paintings by Titian and Roman frescoes from the 1530s. And across from the drawing room's priceless Cucci cabinets (which used to sit in the Palace of Versailles), there's a ping-pong table with paddles at the ready. Although the castle may look more inviting than most, it's still quite exclusive. (Not long ago, it hosted Queen Elizabeth II, and Alnwick's hunting parties are rumored to be the stuff of legend.)
But the real exclusive access happens outside the castle itself. On Luxury Gold's British Royale tour, the Duchess of Northumberland walks guests around the garden's 42 acres, explaining her inspirations and motivations, as well as sharing some of her favorite secret spots inside.
As the Duchess walks guests around the garden, she introduces them to some of its more unique features. "The garden is 21st century," she explains. "It's probably one of the only gardens in the world that cuts older people's toenails on a Monday morning. It isn't boring. It's quirky. We do things differently."
Alnwick's gardens were designed to belong to the community as much as the castle itself. In its cherry orchard (the biggest in the world), each tree is "dedicated to the memory of a loved one or perhaps a baby born" by someone in the local community, the Duchess explains. From hosting a lonely men's club for the elderly to holding a youth gardening group, the Duchess says that the garden is a charity and "every penny goes back into the community."
But the garden still bears the unique Alnwick flair, setting it apart from some of Europe's stuffier noble landmarks. Instead of going the "boring" route of "an apothecary, a curative garden," the Duchess chose to build a Poison Garden, complete with a skull and crossbones and the words "These plants can kill" written across its black iron gates. Within the garden, cannabis, hemlock, and more than 100 other "poisonous" plants grow. (The garden partners with local groups to teach children about substance abuse.)
The visit to Alnwick Castle with the Duchess of Northumberland is available on select Chairman's Collection Luxury Gold tours. The British Royale tour also offers several other royally exclusive perks, like a front-row view of the Tower of London's famous Ceremony of the Keys and an after-hours visit to York's Castle Howard with one of the royal gardeners. The 10-day journey is available to book on luxurygold.com starting from $6,495 per person.