The Grand Tour

The Customs House at Boulogne by Thomas Rowlandson 1790's

The Customs House at Boulogne by Thomas Rowlandson 1790's

In days of yore it was fashionably correct for the elite and anyone of social standing to culminate their launch into society by way of the 'Grand Tour'.  A rite of passage and finishing point of education in culture, arts, architecture and languages via France and Italy. Combining opportunities to mingle and extend continental connections, no tour was  complete without leisurely taking in the sights of Venice, Rome and the trophy of cultural significance, Florence. 

Usually accompanied by a retinue of companions, maids, cooks, guides, coachmen, tutors and a veritable ton of baggage, young men could sow their wild oats without the inconvenient consequences for the family...

Popular from the mid-17th century until the end of the 18th century when the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars stopped most foreign travel for a time and regathered momentum in the early 19th after peace was restored. As travel became cheaper and easier, particularly with the growth of the railways, visiting Europe ceased to be the province of the elite.

Initially the Grand Tour was extremely exclusive, only undertaken by the very rich, mainly the sons of the aristocracy due to the difficulty and expense. Travellers carried little money for fear of robbery. Instead, they took letters of credit from their London banks which they then presented in major cities.

Typically the young travellers experienced greater freedoms on the continent, and became involved in drinking, gaming and romantic liaisons. With time on their hands second and third sons often stayed away for up to 6 years.

The most popular destination was of course France as French was the most commonly spoken second language and much easier to get to. From Paris, travellers usually proceeded to the Alps and then by boat on the Mediterranean to Italy usually visiting Rome and Venice and the capital of culture, Florence. Tours might also have extended to Spain, Portugal, Germany, Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Baltic. Though the chief destinations were the great cities of the Renaissance and the remains of classical civilisations, which usually included the excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii, and visits with French and Italian royal families and sometimes the British envoys to ease the way. 

One of the aims of the Grand Tour was to give gentlemen an aesthetic education, being considered desirable to have an interest in French and Italian art. Travellers typically came home with crates full of souvenirs collected on their travels such as paintings, sculptures and fine clothes. Canaletto, Vernet and Panini all painted for the 18th century tourist market. Collecting was also an essential element. Keepsakes for later display would be despatched and included classical statues, as was sitting for portraits as mementos and also useful for penniless painters such as Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787) who painted over 175 portraits of travellers in Rome.

The Grand Tour whilst predominantly undertaken by gentlemen and a male domain, was also undertaken by women.  Women who were separated or divorced from their husbands often travelled abroad, for health benefits, of course, as they were much more readily accepted on the continent. Well known travellers included Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who went into exile abroad after becoming pregnant with her lover’s child in the early 1790s and Caroline, Princess of Wales, travelled abroad from 1814 to 1820. Caroline’s story, a cautionary tale is worthy of further mention,  

Though you may have to pack your own bag, you won’t need to carry them on your own Grand Tour with TIKI TOURS, we provide your own full time tour director, coach drivers and coaches, you’ll eat food and wine fit for a king and queen with expert local tour guides to inform, palaces and castles to stay in and well if you just can’t resist your own memento, a statue or two to take home can be arranged.