Viva Cuba! Reflections on a music-themed luxury small Cuba group tour with John Illsley

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Back in February, our founder Henrietta hosted a luxury small group travel trip to Cuba with John Illsley, the esteemed English musician and bass guitarist of Dire Straits.

Focused on the music and rhythms of this extraordinary island nation, this unique, behind-the-scenes exploration of Havana and the UNESCO-protected city of Trinidad included highlights such as private jazz, percussion and dance performances by world-renowned Cuban musicians in their own homes and studios, jam sessions with John and exclusive access to the country’s finest historical sites and museums with expert guides.

Sara Stewart in Havana

In order to bring this fascinating Cuba group tour to life, we asked cazenove+loyd client, Sara Stewart, to recall her favourite memories and share what made her small group travel to Cuba experience so special.

Sara’s viewpoint on cazenove+loyd’s luxury small group travel

Sara says: “I have never been a ‘group trip’ type of traveller, but the chance to experience musical Cuba with John Illsley and his guitar was a lure I could not resist.

“Music set the beat for the entire trip. It was the hook that had us all excited and that defined the narrative of our travels.

“John is a lovely man and so laid back – he did not want to shine, although it was impossible for him not to! Rock n’ roll is not exactly Cuban music, but all the locals knew exactly who he was and were so excited to meet him.

“The music we heard was sensational; every evening on the Cuba group tour we were either in a musician’s home or tucked away in a little club, listening to the likes of a world-famous saxophonist who plays at Ronnie Scott’s and an internationally renowned trumpeter who studied at Julliard from the age of 12. It was just magic – there is no way you could have arranged that kind of access on your own.

“The itinerary was exceptional, and our guides were particularly good. Not only did they speak fantastic English and have a great sense of humour, but they were also prepared to talk about everything and tell it like it is.

“The Cuba group tour was filled with so many highlights. We explored museums and galleries, met with various artists in their studios, had a drum lesson one day and a salsa class the next and cruised around Havana in a fleet of open-topped classic cars, for unparalleled immersion in the city.

cazenove+loyd’s guests on our small group travel to Cuba

“The logistics all worked fantastically well too; we were just the right group size, and most people knew a few others and seemed happy to peel off from time to time to do their own thing. There was no pressure to be involved in everything – you only joined in when you wanted to. As the group thawed out and got to know each other, the experience just got better and better.

“Everybody had really travelled before and lots of the group were not British, which was a bonus for me as it made the experience even more interesting. Many of them loved dancing, so every evening, when the music was right, members of the group would just get up and go for it. It was such fun.

“Would I go on another Small Group Trip with cazenove+loyd? Provided there was a hook of interest or amusement that I would not otherwise be able to arrange on my own, then absolutely!”