Over the years I have been on lots of holidays – camping, narrow boating, hiking, lazing on beaches, sitting by hotel swimming pools, visiting Disney World in Florida with the kids, New York in the autumn, exploring archaeological sites along the North African coast and in Greece and Sicily, cruising on the Nile and exploring the Western Desert in a 4×4 – but the best have always been music festivals organised by Martin Randall Travel (MRT). 

I know Martin Randall (he is a real person!) but he knows nothing about this piece; no bribery, no scratching of backs, just a straightforward, unsolicited accolade.

Why do I like holidays with MRT? I have just returned from a music festival on the Danube and here, in no particular order, are the things I particularly enjoyed:

The faultless organisation, with impressive attention to detail.  Well before the holiday a booklet arrives with a full itinerary, complete with little coloured stickers so that you can flag up each day (see what I mean about attention to detail?). In the case of the Danube festival, the booklet is 127 pages long and contains absolutely everything you need to know – and with just enough things it’s nice to know.

The admirable balance struck between being treated as a responsible adult, capable of taking responsibility for yourself, and being gently guided by MRT staff – all delightful young people who either genuinely enjoy the company of people old enough to be their grandparents or are very good at pretending they do!  It is up to you to be in the right place at the right time. There is no regimentation, no announcements, just the comfort of knowing you have entered an unobtrusive mini-culture surrounded by an invisible safety net you can trust.  In a perfect world of consenting adults, it is a model of how every work place and community should operate.

The balance (yes, balance again) between organised offerings – in the case of the Danube festival a concert, sometimes two, each day and lectures and, of course, meal times.  Nothing is compulsory and, even if you go to everything on offer (most people do), there is plenty of time to do your own thing; some sightseeing, quietly reading on the top deck, sketching (I did quite a bit of that) or just chatting to fellow travellers. Our lecturers, Tim Blanning, a distinguished historian and Roderick Swanston, a similarly distinguished musicologist, provided enlightenment with wit and infectious enthusiasm.  Again, in a perfect world, just what lectures should be like; no lecterns, no powerpoints, no reading from notes, no pomposity, no condescension.

The sights and sounds.  I had been to Vienna before (naturally with MRT who organised a superb music festival there back in 2003) but had never been on a cruise along a stretch of the Danube so had never previously seen places such as (travelling from west to east) Linz,  Grein, Melk, Durnstein, Tulln and Bratislava. But delightful though these places are to visit, the real triumphs are the venues where the concerts are held.  Breathtaking OTT places full of art, gilt, mirrors and cut glass chandeliers, with historical connections to the music.  For example, we listened to Haydn Divertimentos in the Ceremonial Hall at Eszerhaza Palace where Haydn churned out music for the two princes he served. And we listened to Schubert songs at Schloss Atzenbrugg where, in July 1820, 21 and 22, Schubert and friends took up residence and produced entertainments that came to be known as ‘Schubertiaden’.  Listening to superb music in such surroundings is profoundly moving; magical in fact.

Last, but not least, our fellow travellers.  Each meal time you take pot luck and sit at a table with new people.  You discover that everyone, without exception, has interesting stories to tell about past exploits – often about past holidays with MRT – and accomplishments. I met professors of this and that, retired ambassadors, bankers (anxious to explain they came from the pre-bonus era!), a successful publisher of children’s books, solicitors, accountants, lawyers, people we see in the audience at Wigmore Hall, medical doctors and ‘proper’ doctors (PhDs).  As you can tell from this list, on an MRT holiday the self-selected audience tends towards homogeneity.  I know it isn’t exactly politically correct to admit it, but the lack of diversity is delightfully relaxing.  In a perfect world this most definitely would not do, but on holiday a continuous supply of kindred spirits is a welcome ingredient!

And I haven’t even mentioned the immaculate, much polished, ship we were on (the MS Amadeus Elegant) with a diligent, attentive crew, the food and wine, the remarkably empty, peaceful Danube, the views of castles on distant hilltops…….

If you don’t fancy a holiday such as I have described, at least visit www.martinrandall.com and ask for one of their brochures. The brochure is a thing of beauty; a collector’s item.

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