Travelling – The Grand Tour of Europe

Tourists The Grand Tour of Europe

“…nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.”  –  Mark Twain

People have always travelled to other parts of the world to see great buildings and works of art, to learn new languages, to experience new cultures and to enjoy different food and drink…

…In 2008 I flew to Athens and in the departure lounge queue behind us was a couple of girls and one announced to the other that ‘I only go on holiday for three things, to get drunk, get stoned and get laid’, I had to see who this person was and when I turned round she turned out to be so unattractive that I was tempted to say ‘Don’t build your hopes up, if I were you I would concentrate on the first two!’ but she was bigger than me so I said nothing of course!

In 1936 the League of Nations defined a foreign tourist as someone travelling abroad for at least twenty-four hours and its successor, the United Nations amended this definition in 1945 by including a maximum stay of six months.  In early 2010 the European Commissioner, Antonio Tajani, unveiled a plan declaring tourism a human right and introduced it with the statement that “travelling for tourism today is a right. The way we spend our holidays is a formidable indicator of our quality of life.”

Young English elites of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Rahs really) often spent two to four years travelling around Europe in an effort to broaden their horizons and learn about language, architecture, geography and culture in an experience known as the Grand Tour.

In fact the word tourist has its origins in what used to be more correctly called the Grand Tour of Europe, which was a term first used by Richard Lassels in his 1670 book ‘Voyage or a Complete Journey through Italy’ and after that it came into general usage to describe the travels in Europe of wealthy young men and women in the years of the Enlightenment where it was quite normal to take a gap year (or four) in the quest for a broader education.

Lassels was a Roman Catholic priest and a tutor to several of the English nobility and travelled through Italy five times. In his book, he claims that any truly serious student of architecture, antiquity, and the arts must travel through France and Italy, and suggested that all “young lords” make the Grand Tour in order to understand the political, social, and economic realities of the world.

The Traveller Oviedo Spain

The primary purpose of the Grand Tour lay in the exposure both to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance and an an introduction to the aristocratic and fashionably polite society of the European continent.  In addition, before museum collections went on tour themselves,  it provided the only opportunity to view specific works of art, and possibly the only chance to hear certain music and it was commonly undertaken in the company of a Cicerone, a knowledgeable guide or tutor.  The Grand Tour had more than superficial cultural importance as the historian E.P. Thompson observed, “ruling-class control in the 18th century was located primarily in a cultural hegemony, and only secondarily in an expression of economic or physical (military) power.”

While the general objective of the Grand Tour was essentially educational (and this probably what mum and dad thought that they were forking out for) they were also notorious for more frivolous pursuits such as getting hammered, partying heavily and sleeping with as many continental lovelies as possible and so began a tradition that thousands of holiday Brits continue to this day in the party hot-spots of Europe.

When young men on the Grand Tour weren’t misbehaving like people on a stag weekend to Amsterdam they were mostly interested in visiting those cities that were considered the major centres of culture at the time, primarily Paris, Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples.

90 Rome

The Grand Tourist would travel from city to city and usually spend some time in smaller towns and up to several months in the three main cities on the itinerary.  Paris was considered the grandest and most cultured city and was usually first en-route and tourists would rent apartments for several weeks at a time and would make occasional visits to the countryside and adjacent towns.

From Paris, they travelled south either across the Alps or by a ship on the Mediterranean Sea to Italy and then they would pass on to Rome or Venice.  To begin with Rome was initially the southernmost point they would travel to but when excavations began at Herculaneum and Pompeii in 1738 the two sites also became additional major destinations on the Grand Tour.

Other locations sometimes included as part of some Grand Tour included Spain and Portugal, Germany, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Baltic States. However, these other spots lacked the cultural and historical appeal of Paris and Italy and the substandard roads made travel much more difficult so they were not always the most popular.

Some of them didn’t have vineyards either so I suppose that might have reduced their appeal somewhat.

The British it seems have always been rather keen on travelling abroad and we have left our mark all over Europe (and not just through football violence either) in Nice one of the first and most established holiday resorts on the French Riviera, the long esplanade along the seafront is known to this day as the Promenade des Anglais and in many other historic resorts in continental Europe, old well-established palace hotels have names like the Hotel Bristol, the Hotel Carlton or the Hotel Majestic, reflecting the predominance of English customers.

In fact there are nearly three hundred hotels around the world called Bristol. They take their name from Frederick Augustus Hervey (1730-1803), the 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, who spent most of his life travelling around Europe enjoying the best hospitality money could buy.  What a good life that would have been, to be sure!

This sort of thing really appeals to me; both the exploration and knowledge and having a really good knees up at the same time and I have become determined to travel as much in Europe as I possibly can. There are forty-six countries in Europe and I have only so far been to twenty-nine so I am just over half way towards my objective of visiting them all.

Ryanair was Europe’s original low fares airline and is my favourite which is lucky for me because the airline has over eleven hundred low fare routes to one hundred and sixty-one destinations in Europe and North Africa.  In the last three years I have flown thirty times at a very reasonable average cost of £40 return all inclusive.

Not all of these flights were with Ryanair of course and I have been forced to use others but I generally find that these work out more expensive.  A return flight to Athens with Easyjet for example costs £120 and my biggest bargain so far was with Ryanair to Santander in Cantabria, Spain at just £10.02 return.  To put things into some sort of perspective it costs over £80 to go to London on the train from Peterborough with National Express and for that you are not even guaranteed a seat.  That is about .90p a mile and on that basis it would cost approximately £1,800 to go to Santander and back by train!

Ryanair over the Alps

In 2015 the most visited country in Europe was France, followed by Spain, Italy, United Kingdom and Germany.  Spain made the most money out or tourist revenues and on average the Germans spent most while away from home.  The most visited city was London (although as usual France disputes the official figures) and the most visited place was Trafalgar Square, followed by the Eiffel Tower and then the Vatican.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation, which has its headquarters in Madrid, produces the World Tourism Rankings and is a United Nations agency dealing with questions relating to tourism.  For the record I visited Trafalgar Square in 2008, the Eiffel Tower in 2005 and the Vatican in 2003.

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26 responses to “Travelling – The Grand Tour of Europe

  1. I had no idea of these Grand Tour adventures of old times. Really interesting!

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  2. Traveled you have a lot, Andrew, and it seems that the so-called “tourist’s melancholy” didn’t catch up with you on any of these – you know when one reaches the point of fatigue and “enough statues and fountains…” and just wants to go home. Great post

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    • Never suffered that malady I am glad too say!

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      • 🙂 Good to know. The last person I know that did was my daughter a few years back as she thought she’d do much of Europe in two or three months on “the road” – about six weeks later she phoned from Prague: “mum I’ve seen enough monuments, museums and statues I want to come home…” Well I said: you just find youtrself a nice rstaurant, get some hearty soup into you and tomorrow head back to UK, to Peterborough and spend a couple of weeks at my friends base then get back to it./ She did…her trip lasted six months then 🙂 One of many. Must say I myself have suffered it a couple of times 🙂 So for few years now don’t take long trips that last six+ weeks 🙂

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      • What brilliant advice. I used to live near Peterborough, in Spalding, Lincolnshire!
        I wouldn’t tackle a six month travel trip, three or four weeks is about right but I might consider longer when I eventually visit Australia and NZ!

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      • So much to see here Down Under and also just lay about 🙂

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  3. Well there you go Hotel Bristol – never stayed in one have you!

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  4. I saw a TV programme once where they traced the details of the plot of “Frankenstein” by places Mary Shelley had visited on a Grand Tour with her husband and Byron. That famous book was certainly one thing to come out of the rich person’s holiday plans!

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  5. Well, you’ve certainly got about, Andrew!

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  6. Where and what is the name of the sculpture (and artist) of the man with coat surrounded by suitcases? I’ve tried hovering over it but a caption isn’t coming up. It’s an interesting one and I gather Italian as only the Italians seem able to carry off the ‘coat as cape’ look with ease and elegance!

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  7. I stayed in a pensione in Taormina once in which Oscar Wilde stayed when on a Grand Tour of Sicily. I only found this out as I was leaving when I remarked on a photograph set in open fields (the hotel as it was then, set in open fields). When I asked why the owners didn’t advertise the hotel’s fame he asked me why? “We are always full so we don’t need any more visitors and besides we want to keep this as a family business, small but easy to run”. There goes a happy family. It was very cheap £40 a night for a perfect position in the old town

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  8. Andrew I had no idea about the history of the word ‘tourist’. I shall very much hope you make it to all of the European countries. I will admit to being envious of you geographical location. As you can imagine it’s no hop skip or jump for us to wing off to most of the countries in the world. Don’t get me wrong lots of wonderful things about Canada, just travel proximity is not one of them.

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  9. So the next Grand Tour will be on Ryanair, I suppose? Still am enjoying those young photos you toss about😃

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  10. I envied the rich people and their grand tours. I thought it sounded perfect. In my young days it was a month on Eurorail, budgeting by sleeping overnight on the train so I could spend on museums and art galleries (and eat) during the day. I suppose the world trip and selfies have become the new grand tour. At least there were no mobiles when I went round the world.

    I picked up a great second hand book in Málaga some years ago about a couple of young men travelling in Europe. I’ll look it up next time I’m in Spain, you might be interested. What really captivated me was someone had written on the inside ‘Things were different in 1953’ – I thought that was brilliant. They were different in 1985 too.

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  11. Another awesome travel site. if you want to see a bit of Mexico…: https://mexicoloveseveryone.com

    Liked by 1 person

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