2019 February eNewsletter

February 12, 2019

Welcome to our February Newsletter

The first three months of every year follows more or less the same path for us, both in the office and wider afield: bookings come in as a result of our Christmas mailing; I take time out of the office to make a few recce visits for future travel programmes, such as Switzerland, where I was two weeks ago; James Hill comes to visit as we fine-tune his and other tours for the coming season; and, welcome descant, nature begins to wake up all round us, as seen in some of our snowdrops above.

 Rushden Hall Northampton 1000 x 500


This month I would like to tell you a little more about some of our UK based tours later this year. In our recent mailing we announced Competitive Baroque: Discovering Northamptonshire, 30 June – 5 July. Led by one of the great experts on this unjustly neglected county, historian and art expert James Miller (with support from me as tour manager and adjunct lecturer), it will be based just outside Kettering in the historic, late Elizabethan, Grade 1 listed Rushton Hall (above) now a comfortable hotel.

Easton Neston 1000 x 500

The range of houses selected by James are mouth watering and they offer an opportunity to immerse ourselves in this fascinating period with ‘connoisseur’ level access to Althorp, Burghley, Boughton and Kimbolton when rooms and treasures not seen by the public will be made available to us. But it is the truly ‘private’ houses that will make this week so special, including Drayton, the home of the Stopford-Sackville family, and above all, Hawksmoor’s masterpiece, Easton Neston (above). Sold some years ago by Lord Hesketh, it is now very much a private home and almost impossible of access for groups.

arniston aerial exterior 1000 x 500


The first of our two Scottish tours this year will be The Scottish Enlightenment: Edinburgh & its Hinterland, 14 – 19 July. Supported by the help of many local friends, this promises to be another tour which will offer not only an insight into the weft and weave of Scottish history, but will bring it to life through a series of related visits to include Holyrood Palace which we shall visit privately when closed to the public), the National Museum of Scotland, the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery and several important houses, such as William Adam’s Arniston (above), built for the Dundas family in the early eighteenth century, whose descendants will be our hosts.

Marchmont 1000 x 500

One of the highlights of this tour will be a day spend down on the River Tweed when we visit two remarkable houses: our morning will begin at Marchmont House (above), the focus of a stunning restoration carried out in recent years, and the deserved recipient of several awards. Now the property of the Burge family, they are to be congratulated and Hugo Burge will be our host for this visit, followed by lunch. We then continue to nearby Mertoun, the seat of the Duke of Sutherland and we have been given special permission to visit the house privately as it is very much not open to the public. Indeed, given the extraordinary picture collection lent by the family to the National Gallery in Edinburgh, with works by Raphael, Rembrandt, Poussin and others which we will have seen earlier in the week, what a treat it will be to see the other great paintings which are in their private home.

Giants Causeway 1000x500 shutterstock 215093251


The distance between the south-west Scottish coast and north-east Ulster's Giant's Causeway (above), is just over twenty miles. This accounts for the long and fecund relationship between these island neighbours from Bronze Age traders to Christian missionaries such as St Columba, and the later Plantation of Ulster in the seventeenth century. Notwithstanding the day-to-day hurly-burly of its recent history, Ulster is now very much a destination and CICERONI was one of the first travel companies to organise tours of the province. In this I was encouraged and helped by two remarkable people, the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn. James Abercorn, together with his late wife, Sacha, opened not only their own magnificent doors at Baronscourt to our groups, but helped me in endless ways. Those of you who have been to Ulster with me and enjoyed the unstinting hospitality of the Abercorns will, I am sure, mourn Sacha’s passing – her’s was truly a life well lived, from which so many benefitted, in Ulster and beyond.

Belle Island 1000 x 500

Indeed, we shall return to Baronscourt and to Ulster once again later this year with Quis Seperabit: Exploring Ulster, 1 – 8 September when we visit both Belfast and Lough Erne, set in the midst of ‘lakeland’ country. ‘Quis Seperabit’, or ‘who shall separate’ is a motto much connected with Irish history, drawing attention to the many links between Britain and Ireland over the centuries. Discover how these links have shaped Ulster, ancient and modern, as we explore its history, its wonderful scenery and above all its private and hidden treasures , via remarkable levels of private access. We shall spend three nights in Belfast in the Fitzwilliam Hotel and four nights near Enniskillen at Belle Isle Castle (above), a private country house which is the property of the Abercorn family, set in wonderful lakeside parkland – a truly serene environment.

Leonardo Da Vinci The Last Supper Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie Milan 1000x500


Finally, you may have noticed in our recent mailing mention of two new tours next December to Milan and St Petersburg? I am delighted to confirm that details of these tours are now on our website. We could not let the five hundred anniversary of Leonardo’s death pass unnoticed and The Universal Artist: Leonardo & The Duchy of Milan, 3 – 7 December will be our tribute.

St P Hermitage 1000x500


In recent years we have organised Christmas tours to both Prague and Dresden and these have proved to be very popular and this coming December we shall offer Sugar Plum Fairies: Christmas in St Petersburg, 22 – 27 December, a feast of history, art, ballet and opera. I hope you will find it of interest?

With every good wish from all of us,

Tom Duncan



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