Small Group Travel
Music + culture in captivating Cuba
John Illsley of Dire Straits and Henrietta Loyd invite you to join them on an exciting trip to discover the colour, music and Caribbean beats of Cuba.
To say Cuba is special is to understate its exceptional charm. We, at cazenove+loyd, love this country. This is our sixth small group trip here, and in that time, we have cemented our relationships with friends on the ground to secure unparallelled private access and insider knowledge, and design a fun, stimulating and memorable journey that combines the UNESCO-protected town of Trinidad with vibrant Havana. As the largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba is lined with beaches scattered with palm trees and encircled by coral reefs. But travelling here is about much more than this – instead, it’s about the art, architecture, people and, of course, music. Therefore, on this trip, we have decided to focus on music.
Cuba’s beats are part of its very soul and in everyone’s blood – from the quartet playing in a cafe to the stars that are recognised on an international scale. The towns are alive with passion and colour, with salsa dancers on street corners, the tell-tale waft of cigar smoke and the ceaseless beat of live jazz flowing through old, stone walls wherever you go. The country moves to its own rhythms.
With this in mind, our Founder + Co-Owner, Henrietta Loyd, asked English musician, John Illsley, to co-lead this trip, and we were delighted when he accepted her invitation. Having risen to fame as the bass guitarist and one of the founding members of the critically acclaimed band, Dire Straits, John has been the recipient of multiple BRIT and Grammy Awards and a Heritage Award. With many decades in the music industry behind him, he will be a fun and very interesting leader and travel companion. Being a musician, artist and creative, he has always longed to go to Cuba, and is so looking forward to sharing his knowledge and passion for music on this trip.
You will also be accompanied by Henrietta Loyd who is passionate about Cuba and knows it inside out, having hosted several journeys here. “Cuba is remarkable,” she says. “It is full of laughter and fun. It is vibrant, brimming with life, charming and bustling. I love the art, the ballet, the music and the people – who are incredibly welcoming and friendly, and always delighted to introduce our clients to every aspect of their incredible country. Now, more than ever, is the time to go to Cuba. To have these places to ourselves, without the crowds, will be phenomenal.”
Some of the highlights of this trip include enjoying private jazz, percussion and dance performances by world-renowned Cuban musicians* in their homes and studios, where you will have the opportunity to chat to them and learn about their lives. You will even have the chance to try some percussion and rumba yourselves. We also hope that one evening, John will take up his guitar and play with some of the musicians in a one-off show just for you. On the last night, you will be serenaded by well-known Cuban singer, Idania Valdes, during a private dinner at La Guarida, the oldest and most atmospheric paladar (small, family-run restaurant) in Havana – a very special experience too.
We are so excited about this once-in-a-lifetime trip, which is an unparalleled opportunity to get under the skin of Cuba’s music scene in the company of Henrietta Loyd and the esteemed English musician, John Illsley.
*Musicians may be subject to change, depending on their tour schedules.
What makes this trip spectacular?
We asked English musician, John Illsley, to lead this trip alongside Founder + Co-Owner, Henrietta Loyd, and were delighted when he accepted our invitation. Having risen to fame as the bass guitarist and one of the founding members of the critically acclaimed band, Dire Straits, John has been the recipient of multiple awards. Being a musician, artist and creative, he will be a fun and very interesting leader and travel companion. He has always longed to go to Cuba, and is very much looking forward to sharing his knowledge and passion for music with the group. Henrietta is passionate about Cuba and knows it inside out.
Go behind the scenes in Cuba’s distinctive capital – from exploring the city in a vintage car to private jazz, percussion and dance performances by world-renowned Cuban musicians in their homes and studios. You will have the chance to chat to them and learn about their lives, as well as trying some percussion and rumba yourselves. We also hope that one evening, John will take up his guitar and play with some of the musicians in a one-off show just for you.
UNESCO-protected Trinidad is the town that sugar built. Explore its pretty, colonial buildings with an expert guide, enjoy exclusive access to the plantations and old mills, learn about the town’s sugar trade history, and enjoy some amazing private performances in the homes of some of Trinidad’s best-known musicians.
Dine at La Guarida, the oldest and most atmospheric paladar (a ‘small, family-run restaurant’) in town, on a private, beautifully decorated terrace overlooking Old Havana, serenaded by the well-known Cuban singer, Idania Valdes. The perfect grand finale to the trip.
Welcome to Cuba
On arrival in Havana, you will be whisked past the airport queues to an air-conditioned vehicle and taken to your hotel. We have chosen the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Havana as our base. Settle in tonight, relax and get ready to start your Cuban adventure the next morning.
Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski
The city’s finest hotel lies in the heart of historic Havana. Formerly a grand, 19th-century shopping mall – owned by a sugar baron – which later fell into disrepair, a five-year renovation has restored the building and created the most exciting new hotel in the Cuban capital. Head up to the rooftop swimming pool and terrace for views over the beautiful, faded buildings that make up alluring Havana. The lobby bar and cigar lounge capture the romance of the past, while the bedrooms all have high-ceilings and are elegantly designed.
An introduction to Havana
This morning, you will discover the highlights of Havana on an exhilarating drive in your very own vintage open-top car: a brilliant experience. En route, you will be able to see the panoramic views of El Morro, the fortress at the mouth of Havana Harbour, the Malecón, Paseo del Prado and the impressive Bacardi Building and Revolution Square. You will enjoy a delicious lunch at Restaurant El del Frente, which has a lovely rooftop terrace, retro interior and serves fabulous food and cocktails.
In the afternoon, you can relax at the hotel or stroll around Old Havana in your own time, before heading out to experience this Caribbean town coming to life right before your eyes and dining at Restaurant 5 Sentidos, a lovely paladar with good service and a tasty menu.
Rumba, jazz + cocktails in Havana
In the mid-morning, you will be taken to the private penthouse flat of Sue Herrod, a British composer and Havana resident. Her apartment, in the Vedado district, has spectacular views of Havana. Sue works with two of Cuba’s best rumba and folkloric dancers, Jesus ‘Toto’ Morales Martinez and Arianna Sabourin Martinez, and you will witness a private performance of rumba. She will introduce the dance form in the context of Cuba’s colonial history and perform six dances – three religious and three classic rumba forms. There will be time to chat to the musicians and even to try some rumba yourselves.
Lunch will be at Restaurant Rio Mar on a large terrace overlooking the bay where the Almendares River meets the Atlantic Ocean. After lunch, you will have time to relax at the hotel or explore independently before another exciting evening of music.
In the early evening, we have arranged for you to enjoy a private music performance at the home of the Cuban jazz musician, Cesar Lopez. One of the best-known exponents of Latin Jazz in Cuba, Cesar has been called the Cuban Charlie Parks and won a Grammy during his time with the great jazz musician, Chucho Valdes, and his band, Irakere. He has shared the stage with many famous musical personalities and played at nearly every jazz festival in the world during this career. You will have the opportunity to chat to him and listen to him play in this informal and intimate setting.
Afterwards, you will feast on cocktails and creative, organic tapas at El Cocinero, a very special spot beside Fabrica de Arte, Havana’s most popular contemporary music venue.
Percussion, dance + Cuban music in Havana
This morning, you will attend a percussion and dance rehearsal by the Havana Compás Dance company, which is recognised internationally for combining dance with percussion and promoting Cuban culture. This will be followed by a percussion lesson for those who would like to try their hand at some Cuban beats and rhythms.
Today’s lunch will be at Cocina de Lilliam, a lovely, family-owned restaurant set in the gardens of a villa in Miramar, one of Havana’s residential suburbs. This fabulous spot is run by Lilliam who left her career as a fashion designer to set up a restaurant. Passionate about food, she learnt her skills from her mother and still cooks with her daughter and brother at the restaurant. Afterwards, you can head back to the hotel to put your feet up beside the rooftop pool or explore some of the capital’s museums at your leisure.
In the early evening, you will be taken to the home of Cucurcho Valdés, better known by his nickname, ‘Cucurucho’. His late grandfather and his uncle are two of the world’s best pianists and Cucurucho himself is a very talented musician. He has been in several well-known jazz and Cuban music bands and was nominated three times for a Latin Grammy. He continues to develop his talent and passion for traditional Cuban music, reproducing some of his grandfather’s works but giving them a more contemporary sound without losing their original roots. You will have the opportunity to chat to this fascinating musician and, of course, hear him play in a private performance.
Dinner will be on the rooftop of the top-notch Art Bar and Restaurant Jesus Maria 20, an excellent hideaway in Old Havana that serves modern Cuban fusion dishes, washed down with very tasty cocktails. This is one of the city’s best restaurants.
Journey to Trinidad via Cienfuegos
Today, a scenic drive into the hills towards Trinidad takes you via Cienfuegos, known as ‘the Pearl of the South’, where you stop for lunch at Finca del Mar, which dishes up delicious fresh seafood in a glorious coastal setting. Afterwards, your guide will accompany you on an exploration of Cienfuegos, stopping by Jose Marti Park, the 950-seat Tomas Terry Theatre and the Palacio del Valle at Punta Gorda, with its interesting mix of Byzantine, Venetian, Gothic, Baroque and Mudejar architecture.
You will then continue on to the pretty, UNESCO-protected city of Trinidad, where you will check in to either Finca Kenia, Casa Zenia Ana or Casa D’lirio. Relax in the afternoon until it’s time for mojitos on the terrace of La Casona at Finca Kenia and a typical Cuban feast of roast pork, accompanied by live musicians playing traditional music. After dinner, if you’re not ready for bed yet, you can head out to Casa de la Trova to enjoy some more live beats and rhythms.
Finca Kenia, Casa Zenia Ana or Casa D’lirio
In Trinidad, the group will be divided into three guest houses: Finca Kenia, Casa Zenia Ana and Casa D’lirio. These private homes reflect the nature of this old colonial town and will give guests an opportunity to see another side of Cuban life and culture.
After breakfast, join John, Henrietta and our superb local guide on a walk around the cobblestone streets and colonial courtyards of Trinidad to hear how the town was an integral part of the sugar trade at a time when it was one of the most important Caribbean exports in the world. With its pastel-hued houses and views of the Sierra Escambray mountains and the Caribbean Sea, Trinidad is very charming. The unspoilt architecture here is truly impressive, and this is one of the best-preserved colonial towns on the island and has an electric atmosphere, with music playing throughout the town at all hours. There will be a salsa lesson later in the morning for those who are keen to give this fun style of dance a go.
Lunch today will be at Restaurant Cubita, run by Trinidad’s famous ceramic makers and one of the best places to eat in Trinidad. Afterwards, you can spend the afternoon on the beach, wandering around the town or unwinding at Finca Kenia.
This evening, you will dine at Los Conspiradores, a great little restaurant owned by Yami, a famous local artist, which serves traditional Cuban fare. After dinner, we have arranged for you to enjoy a private performance by Trinidad musicians, Duo Cofradioa – a husband and wife team who write and perform their own music and are important to Trinidad’s socio-cultural scene – in the garden at their home. They will also be joined by Carlito Irarragorri, another popular Trinidad artist who plays several instruments and is particularly well known for his traditional son music.
Return to Havana via the Bay of Pigs
After a leisurely breakfast, you will start your return journey to Havana via the Bay of Pigs where you will have a chance to explore the war museum. You’ll then continue onwards to Havana, stopping for a picnic on the way. On arrival in Havana, you will check-in to Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski once more and relax for the rest of the afternoon.
This evening, you will enjoy an unforgettable farewell dinner at La Guarida, the oldest and most atmospheric paladar (a ‘small, family-run restaurant’) in town. Delicious food will be served on a private, beautifully decorated terrace overlooking Old Havana, accompanied by a private performance by Idania Valdes, a fantastic singer who comes from a well-known musical family and has shared the stage with a number of famous Cuban names, as well as forging a strong solo career for herself. This is the perfect grand finale to the trip.
After breakfast, you will have the opportunity to visit three local artist studios with a specialist guide to have a private view of their works and learn from them about Cuban art. The island’s evocative contemporary art scene is world-renowned, and it is fascinating to meet and chat to these artists about their work.
The rest of the day is at leisure. We would suggest visiting the Partagás Factory to see the famous Cuban cigars being hand rolled or indulging in some last-minute shopping. Otherwise, just relax at the hotel until your transfer to the airport in the late afternoon.
John Illsley, musician and artist, is best known as the bass player and co-founder of the multi-million selling band, Dire Straits. John and Mark Knopfler were the only founding members to remain in the line-up from 1977 until they decided to call it a day in 1995. Dire Straits were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. As a musician, John also has eight solo albums to his name and, since Dire Straits stopped touring, has followed his other passion, art, with solo exhibitions in London, New York, Sydney and Europe. John is the recipient of multiple Brit and Grammy awards and an Ivor Novello award for outstanding contribution to British music.
Henrietta Loyd, founder and co-owner of cazenove+loyd, has led many hugely successful small group trips and is a wonderful host. Her experience, enthusiasm and passion for our destinations makes her an unparalleled travel companion and a safe pair of hands. Henrietta assiduously hones every detail of every itinerary, ensuring that her guests are introduced to the country in the most inspiring way. She believes nothing should be compromised. This means staying at the best hotels, lodges and camps, having the best specialist guides along the way and seeing a side of a place that others cannot usually access.
THE BENEFITS OF SMALL GROUP TRAVEL
Our hand-picked specialists, guides and leaders ensure unrivalled insider access that you wouldn't normally be able to achieve unless you were travelling as a group, allowing guests to experience the destination in a very special way.
Small group travel gives you an amazing opportunity to spend time with true experts in their field. Each trip is accompanied by an owner – either Christopher Wilmot-Sitwell or Henrietta Loyd – as well as top specialists, guides and leaders.
Our small trips often form the beginning of life-long friendships. Much of the journey is spent as a group, but there is plenty of time to relax and enjoy your own space too. Henrietta and Christopher are brilliant at reading their guests and being proactive and reactive to the flow of the trip.
- From £4,995 (US$7,193) per person sharing
- Single supplement: £1,295 (US$1,865)
- All accommodation and meals, as specified
- All road transfers, as specified
- Guiding and excursions as specified
- All entrance fees
- Cuban visas
- International flights
- Travel insurance
- PCR tests