We check in to the Bridgewood Manor Hotel in the afternoon. Later, we enjoy a welcome drinks reception hosted by our tour manager followed by a three-course evening meal.
Monday: Leeds Castle & Bradbourne House
We pay a visit to the magnificent Leeds Castle, a quintessential moated castle set in 500 acres of glorious parkland. Dating back to the 12th century, it has been a Norman stronghold, the royal residence of six medieval queens and was once home to Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Latterly, it became an elegant early 20th-century retreat for the influential and the famous. The castle’s impressive state rooms will be decorated for Christmas and, after our visit, we’ll enjoy a festive lunch.
Our next stop is Bradbourne House, an impressive Queen Anne manor house with Tudor origins, surrounded by 20 acres of beautiful parkland. The house remained in the ownership of the same family, the Twisdens, for around 400 years, before being sold in 1938 when John Ramskill Twisden died without an heir. The elegant interiors include the striking teal and gold walls of the Great Hall and the spectacular ornate ceiling in the Committee room while numerous portraits chart the chequered history of the Twisden family which we learn more about on our guided tour.
In the evening we enjoy a three-course dinner and an interesting themed talk from a guest speaker.
Tuesday: Rochester & Provender
We spend the morning in Rochester, a town full of characterful streets and ancient buildings including an imposing castle and lovely cathedral. The town was also a favourite of Charles Dickens who based many of his novels in the area.
We continue on to Provender, home of Princess Olga Romanoff, daughter of Prince Andrew Romanoff, the eldest nephew of the Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Dating back to the 13th century, Provender is a fascinating record of English building traditions over seven centuries as adventurers, explorers, heiresses and princesses each re-fashioned the house to make it their own. A recent programme of careful restoration has revealed a wealth of historical and architectural detail which we discover on our exclusive private tour, led by the princess herself.
This evening, we enjoy a three-course dinner back at the hotel.
Wednesday: Hever Castle, Canterbury & Canterbury Cathedral
We head to Hever Castle, the childhood home of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. Dating back to the late 13th century, this double-moated castle originated as a gatehouse and walled bailey and is home to various historic artefacts such as Tudor portraits and furniture, as well as two prayer books signed and inscribed by Anne Boleyn. The castle was lavishly restored and extended in the early 20th century by American millionaire, William Waldorf Astor. We enjoy a private guided tour of the castle which is beautifully decorated for the festive season with fairy lights, welcoming log fires and twinkling Christmas trees.
Afterwards we visit the historic city of Canterbury, home to the oldest cathedral in England, dating back to Norman times. The site of Christian pilgrimage since the Middle Ages, the cathedral is listed as a World Heritage Site and contains one of England’s largest collections of early medieval stained glass while its awe-inspiring architecture includes a sweeping Gothic nave and cavernous crypt. After our visit to the cathedral, we have time at leisure to explore Canterbury at our own pace.
We return to our hotel for a three-course dinner.
After breakfast, we check out of the hotel for our journey home.