‘Three hundred years ago, wealthy young Englishmen began taking a post-Oxbridge trek through France and Italy in search of art, culture and the roots of Western civilization. With nearly unlimited funds, aristocratic connections and months (or years) to roam, they commissioned paintings, perfected their language skills and mingled with the upper crust of the Continent.’ Matt Gross ‘ Lessons from the Frugal Grand Tour’
I found myself in Italy, on Lake Como last weekend and every hamlet seemed to have a ‘Grand Hotel.’ I swear some looked like the blue print for ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel.’
I was reliving ‘Room with a View.’ Italy from the 1600’s and in particular the 1800’s when the ‘The Grand Tour’ was extremely popular. The completing of one’s education on a grand budget.
So what was ‘The Grand Tour.’? And why do these towns on the edge of the lake still hark back to the time? Prior to the Victorian Era in England, Renaissance Italy saw many Italian nobles and the clergy building splendid villas along the edges of the lake. Many of them remain today. With improved rail connections – the English came to spend part of their European itinerary here, visiting these villas, the small cobbled streets of Varenna and Bellagio – indulging in it’s ‘otherworldliness.’
Considered by the wealthy as an important journey in a man – and later a woman’s life – travelling through Europe, and in particular France and Italy, would expose them to great Art, the Classics, Music and different cultures. To study the masterpieces in Florence, Rome, Paris and the rest of the continent. Some travelled for a few months, others spent years in Europe.
As was the custom, one did not travel alone. Parties could vary from a single Chaperone to an entire group, including your doctor, banker and in one case, Capability Brown, landscape designer extraordinare. One would study drawing, painting, a foreign language. Study antiques and hopefully return with antiquities and an art collection to the envy of all around. One would return ‘accomplished’.
I suppose it can be compared to the Gap Year nowadays but somehow I think those going on a Gap year are looking for a different kind of education. Grand is not the word.
So why important to know about The Grand Tour? Before global and cyber communication, a way to explore the Continent and share your knowledge about other countries and traditions to those who did not have the opportunity to travel. The Grand Tour speaks of a gentle time, of elegance and grace. Speaks of Train journeys and picnics on poppy covered hills. Time in Venice and immersion into culture. Opulent yes, classical yes, but it teaches us of a time when travel was savoured, and slow. Going to Lake Como brought back some of the magic. These small towns still thrive on the memory.
The wars changed everything.
My love for Art, Culture and the classics would have made of me a perfect companion. There is a little of the Grand Tour that still lingers in Lenno …
Image metro, wiki, cineplex