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The Grand Tour – This Blogger’s Brief Overview

Dating back to 1660 young individuals with dreams of improving their cultural education, their social connections (what we call ‘networking’ today), as well as their social standing, have been traveling throughout Europe on what’s known as The Grand Tour. While the itinerary varied, the Grand Tour, almost by definition, always included both Venice and Rome since both were the cradle of our western artistic culture, e.g. the Renaissance.

Rome, Italy
Rome, Italy

In addition to the professed educational and self-improvement objectives of the trip, the grand tourists were also in Europe doing a bit of shopping. Here’s an interesting quote: “Grand Tourists would return with crates of art, books, pictures, sculpture, and items of culture, which would be displayed in libraries, cabinets, gardens, and drawing rooms, as well as the galleries built purposely for their display; The Grand Tour became a symbol of wealth and freedom.” (Source.)

The travelers were often accompanied by a Cicerone. According to Wikipedia, a Cicerone is “an old term for a guide, one who conducts visitors and sightseers to museums, galleries, etc., and explains matters of archaeological, antiquarian, historic or artistic interest. The word is presumably taken from Marcus Tullius Cicero, as a type of learning and eloquence.”

I am here to say not much has changed! We all travel to Europe with the ideas of refining our knowledge, meeting interesting people, eating and drinking wonderful food, bringing back a few treasured souvenirs to display and yes, to perhaps improving our social standing among peers. We join shore excursions (aka Land Discoveries), we hire private guides, or we muddle along on our own with our guidebooks, learning about the people, the history and the cultures of the destinations.

We’ve been raised on various depictions of The Grand Tour. For generations popular films and literature have taught us that travels to Europe will change us in some way.

Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy

Here’s a very short list of stories, films, and a TV show that come to my mind when I think of The Grand Tour…

A favorite of mine is the 1908 novel “A Room with a View” by E.M. Forster. This is the story of a young English woman on her own Grand Tour of Italy. The novel was adapted into a movie in 1985 starring Helena Bonham Carter in the lead role as Lucy Honeychurch. She is escorted by her chaperon, Charlotte Bartlett, who is played by the fabulous Maggie Smith (that alone makes me want to see it again!)

For a humorous depiction, I recommend Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad. The full title is perhaps more descriptive: The Innocents Abroad or the New Pilgrim’s Progress: Being Some Account of the Steamship QUAKER CITY’s Pleasure Excursion to Europe and the Holy Land. This 1869 romp is Twain’s tale of a six-month Grand Tour he signed up for at age 32 and still a bachelor. The Quaker City, a side-wheel steamship, departed New York Harbor on June 8th, 1867, and sailed for Europe and the Holy Lands. This is sometimes called the most famous travel book ever written by an American. (Sidebar: you can presently download a Kindle version of “The Innocents Abroad” for only 99 cents…I did and am re-reading it this week.)

Another memorable depiction of the Grand Tour was the 1994 BBC television series “Sister Wendy’s Grand Tour” which was shown in America on PBS. Sister Wendy (aka Sister Wendy Beckett, a Carmelite nun who lives in a monastery in Norfolk, England) focuses on the artwork of Europe and the artists’ lives and intentions. She would be my choice as a perfect Cicerone if you asked me. I loved her various series then, and would relish seeing them all again if they were readily available.

And most recently, there is a captivating article in the current issue of Smithsonian Magazine entitled “John Singleton Copley’s Grand Tour”, written by Jane Kamensky (April 2014, pgs 60-71). Kamensky is retracing and exploring the American artist’s 1774 Grand Tour of Italy. The editor’s headline of this story says it all: “When Colonial America’s Greatest Painter Took His Brush to Europe: John Singleton Copley left for Europe on the eve of the American Revolution – a historian and her teenage son made the trip to see why.” I invite you to read along.

Here I am in Europe, back in 1996
Here I am in Europe, back in 1996

These are just four varied examples of The Grand Tour that I’ve enjoyed and which have influenced me over the years. I’d love to hear yours!

Ciao for now,


Feeling inspired by Bonnie’s post? We sure are! Here are some upcoming itineraries that come to mind when we think of the Grand Tour.

  • Beginning September 15, this 10-Night voyage on the Azamara Quest visits Greece, Turkey, Montenegro, Croatia and Venice.
  • This September 27 Azamara Journey voyage begins and ends in Civitavecchia (Rome) and visits some of our favorite ports in Italy and Malta.
  • Depart from Civitavecchia (Rome) on October 4 for a 7-Night Azamara Journey voyage visiting Corsica, Tuscany and the Cote d’Azur.
  • Take in the Holy Lands on this 12-Night Azamara Quest cruise, which embarks from Civitavecchia (Rome) on October 12 and takes you to ports in Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Israel.
  • This November 6 10-Night cruise on the Azamara Journey is called “Mediterranean Favorites” for a reason. You’ll visit nine different ports with plenty of late-night stays.


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  1. Aloha Bonnie!

    Thanks for the reference on The Grand Tour on the Smithsonian. Enjoyed reading the article and looking at those great photos.