The Southeast Feature
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Tips for Visiting Treasure Houses
Throughout the Southeast you can wander through the gorgeous homes of the wealthy and the formerly wealthy. Some are privately owned; hundreds of other homes and castles are owned by the National Trust or English Heritage, organizations that raise part of the money needed to maintain them through entrance fees. Here are some things to help you plan your visit:
Keep in mind that houses and castles are unique. What you get for your entrance fee differs enormously. You may be free to wander at will, or you may be organized into groups like prisoners behind enemy lines. Sometimes the exterior of a building may be spectacular, but the interior dull. And the gardens and grounds may be just as interesting as (or more so than) the house. Our individual reviews alert you to these instances, but you should study Web sites. You can often pay separately for the house and grounds, so choose your admission ticket accordingly.
Consider the kids. You don't have to pass up a visit to a house or castle because you think the kids will be bored. Some houses have activities or special events aimed at kids, especially in summer; some even have playgrounds.
Look into money-saving passes. If you plan to see lots of historic houses and castles, it might be cheaper to buy a pass, such as VisitBritain's Great British Heritage Pass, or to join an organization such as the National Trust and thus get free entry. Check entrance fees against your itinerary to be sure what you will save.
Check seasonal opening hours. Hours can change abruptly, so call the day before or check online. Many houses are open only from April to October, and they may have extremely limited hours. In other cases the houses have celebrated parks and gardens that are open much of the year. Consider a trip in shoulder seasons if you can't take the crowds that inevitably pack the most popular houses. Quite a few places are open during December with extravagant Christmas displays.
Plan your transportation. If you don't have a car, it's essential to plan transportation in advance. Some places are tucked deep in the countryside; others are more accessible.
Consider a stay at a property. To get even more up close and personal, you can rent a cottage from the National Trust (www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk) or English Heritage (www.english-heritage.org.uk/holidaycottages). You could stay in the servants' quarters, a lodge, or even a lighthouse; even Sissinghurst Castle Garden is renting a house on its grounds. Some privately owned houses have cottages for rent on their estates; their Web sites generally have this information. The Landmark Trust (www.landmarktrust.org.uk) and Vivat Trust (www.vivat-trust.org) also have properties for rent.
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