The Grand Tour is an extended cultural tour of Europe, especially Italy, which was the preserve of young English gentry of the day, yet is now undertaken by virtually anybody who wishes to. The Grand Tour goes from Milan to Palermo and takes at least a month to complete the thousand-mile-plus journey.
Author Richard Lessels coined the term Grand Tour in his book Voyage to Italy, in 1670. Shortly after its publication several guide books were written for travel around Europe and a whole tourist industry developed around the idea.
The history of the Grand Tour is that it was a part of the young adventure-type English elites’ education and came about in the 16th century. It got particularly popular in the following century and in the 18th century, when the privileged would spend at least two years traveling around Europe. This would sometimes even extend to four years with those who took to the languages, architecture, and culture of the various European countries particularly well.
Luckily enough, travel to Europe from just about anywhere in the world is no longer for a select few today and you can find yourself in northern Italy at the start of the Grand Tour without too much effort or expense. The idea is to start in the north and work your way south, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells along the way. You can of course start in the south of Italy and work your way north. It’s a good idea to try and follow the climate, depending on your disposition, in this respect.
Many Grand Tour travelers start in Italy’s main northern city, Milan, the capital of shopping and finance for the north. From Milan, a good idea is to take in the rest of the north, including the fabulous Lombard lakes, delightful Verona and then perhaps the beautiful water city of Venice.
If you have the time, inclination, fitness, and money then perhaps a detour to the Italian Dolomites for a spot of via ferrata walking would suit you. Via ferrata, meaning iron road, or iron ways, is a series of walkways and ladders strung up high into the Dolomites. Not many regular people get to do this and it is one of those things you get to tell your grandkids.
Of course, via ferrata walking was not even thought of in the days of the Grand Tour, which was more to do with art and architecture than geography. From Venice, you could head down to the Bologna region to check out some Florentine art in this most visual of cities. Just west of here is Romanesque-heavy Lucca, while Pisa, with its amazing cathedral and leaning tower, is also nearby.
Sublime Siena is south of here followed by Perugia, the Umbrian capital. Rome is the next major stop and worthy of at least a few days. You have to be careful not to get caught up in the splendor of the place, however, for fear of missing the rest of the tour. Naples is next up heading south, a bit of a chaotic city but artfully endowed nonetheless, while the enchanting ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum under the watchful eye of Vesuvius are nearby.
Head over to the Amalfi coast from here and take in some sun, before dropping down the boot to Lecce to seek out the gorgeous Baroque palaces. If you have time, head southwest across to Sicily and check out its manic capital, Palermo, and Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano.