Harwich was once a busy naval dockyard, building warships for Henry VIII but today its seafront is full of painters, photographers and bird watchers. There's also an annual festival of the Festival of the Arts (24 June – 5 July) during which you can see some of that artwork in an exhibition called “Eastern Light”. There'll be concerts every day at 12 noon in St Nicholas Church with the opportunity to have lunch with the musicians at the Alma Inn afterwards. Do visit Harwich's ‘Art Quarter' this summer and stay at The Pier, a delightful Victorian hotel with a charming annex next door in an old low-ceilinged seafaring inn. The Pier is a work of art in its own right, built in the “Venetian Palazzo” style at a time when Londoners took the boat train to Harwich in order to sail to Belgium.
The Leeds Festival is twinned with Reading and both are synonymous with some of the best live music in the UK, if not the world (according to the festival organisers). This year, as ever, the Leeds Festival takes place over the Bank Holiday weekend, 28-30 August, in Bramham Park. The Libertines, Mumford and Sons, and Metallica are booked to perform.
The city of Leeds itself is ten miles south west of Bramham Park and at its centre stands Queens Hotel, a Grade II-listed Art Deco Grade II-listed building and one of Britain's many wonderful railway hotels. It's been beautifully refurbished in black and red geometric designs and looms up impressively over the railway station. The city's most famous festival and its most famous hotel may be a million miles apart from each other in terms of style but they both offer the best.
It really wouldn't be summer in London without Opera Holland Park, which runs 2 June – 1 August this year and offers six operas staged in front of the façade of Holland House. The parkland setting is magical and many people bring picnic baskets to enjoy in the grounds of this Jacobean mansion, which was destroyed in the Blitz leaving only its east wing standing. This year, Puccini's Trittico will be performed in front of the house, along with Aida, Lakmé, L'amore dei tre Re, and two more recent operas.
The Milestone Hotel is a pleasant 15-minute walk from Holland Park which makes it an ideal place to base yourself while attending the opera as well as for shopping in Kensington. The Milestone is a luxurious Grade II-listed building which in the past was occupied by – amongst others - the Russian ambassador Count Chernyshev and the English diplomat Baron Redesdale, grandfather of the remarkable Mitford sisters.
Stratford Upon Avon is world-famous for its Royal Shakespeare Company but it also supports a wonderful autumn music festival (10-24 October). The festivals motto is “Early Music to the Present Day performed by Music Legends to Names of the Future”. This year guest artists include BBC Young Musician of the Year Laura van der Heijden, Eboracum Baroque, and the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra. The lunchtime concerts held in Stratford upon Avon Town Hall offer a complementary glass of sherry and there are good free “Buy-A-Beer” music events in many of Stratford pubs.
Ettingham Park stands six miles outside of Stratford and has been the family home of the Shirley family for centuries. Not only is it famous for its ghosts, but has its own Shakespeare connection. One of the tenants of Ettingham, the Underhill family, sold the Great House in New Place to a certain William Shakespeare when he returned to Stratford with his earnings from The Globe.
The Malvern Hills are home to a number of festivals. There's a four-day Spring Festival for gardeners, a nine-day Walking Festival for ramblers and from 31 July to 2 August the far less sedate Malvern Rocks Festival which, is now in its fourth year. Promising non-stop music at a variety of pub venues, Malvern Rocks is undoubtedly noisier than anything else that goes on in this spa town.
For all these events -or if you simply want to wander these beautiful hills on an Elgar pilgrimage - Stanbrook Abbey is a superb place to stay the night. Six miles from Malvern and four miles from Worcester, this red brick monastery owes its design to Pugin, the Victorian prophet of the Gothic Revival. Now turned into a hotel with its vaulted chapel a dining venue known as the Callow Great Hall, Stanbrook Abbey is a destination in its own right.
The Brecon Jazz Festival is one of the most popular festivals in Wales. Now in its 31st year the festival runs from 7-9 August this year, and features a huge range of performers across more than twenty concerts. As ever this year there'll be Friday Fireworks, a Jazz Carnival parade on Saturday, and the Jazz Service on Sunday, plus free family events on the festival fringe.
Unlike many rural festivals, there is no camping at Brecon Jazz, which makes local hotels very popular. One of the nearest, and certainly one of the best, is Gliffaes, which was once the home of a Victorian clergyman who loved fly-fishing on the River Usk. It is still very popular with fishing folk. The hotel will even arrange rods and waders for you. Gliffaes is also ideal for those who want a first-class meal at the end of a day tramping the Brecon Beacons.
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