The Grand Tour was a trip through Europe, often following a specific route, which was undertaken by upper-class young European men. A Grand Tour could last from three months to several years, and was designed to educate the upcoming aristocracy in antiquities, artworks, music, local culture, geography and the nature of man. The tradition of the Grand Tour began in the 1660s, and ended with the advent of large-scale rail networks in the 1840s.
A typical Grand Tour undertaken by an Englishman began in Dover. He would cross the English Channel with his valets, coachmen and possibly a cook. The group would land in Spain or France, acquire a coach and a French-speaking guide, and travel on to Paris. The appeal of Paris lay in the complex French manners, the sophisticated language, the courtly behaviour and the fashion.
From Paris the young man would travel to Switzerland, often Geneva. The group would then undertake the difficult task of crossing The Alps. The carriage was dismantled, as was the luggage. Once on the other side in Italy the whole lot had to be put back together again. The group would continue on to Turin and Florence. The young aristocrat would spend a few months viewing Renaissance artworks and sculptures, with side trips to Pisa, all the while amassing a small collection of art and curiosities to take home to England. From Florence they travelled Padua, Bologna and, essentially, Venice.
Next came Rome, where he studied the ruins of the ancient city, and the masterpieces of art and architecture from Rome’s early Christian, Renaissance and Baroque periods. If so inclined he might then travel on to Naples to study music, and later to view the newly discovered ruins of Pompeii. This was considered the end of the Tour. The rest of the trip was spent going north through the German-speaking countries until the now educated young man arrived home with tales of music and art for his mother, and girls and wine for his friends.
So is a Grand Tour still possible? There are two important facets of a true Grand Tour – to educate yourself in the culture and history of the cities you visit, and to break out of rigid society. With that in mind there are two ways you might attempt your own Grand Tour. You could go by yourself (or with a friend), armed with guide books and an open mind, and simply follow the route laid out centuries ago. Your other option is to book a guided tour, or multiple guided tours, through the cities you wish to visit. This may provide a more personal, in-depth education about the area, and a tour guide can often direct you to the hidden gems of a city.