If it's Tuesday, it Must be Barcelona

If it's Tuesday, it Must be Barcelona photo

The Grand Tour has changed a lot since its inception in the late 17th century. Originally taking months or years, focusing on Paris and Rome, today it can be done in a matter of weeks, and for those in a hurry and on a budget, days.

Wealthy young Englishmen from the 16th to the early 19th centuries often traveled around Europe, accompanied by a tutor, in an effort to broaden their horizons and learn about culture, language, art and architecture, al the time mingling with the Continent's upper crust. Richard Lassels coined the phrase, Grand Tour, in his 1670 book Voyage to Italy. Other guidebooks expounded on it and the tourist industry developed and grew to meet the needs of the 20-something males and their tutors across the European continent.

The Grand Tour was neither a scholar's pilgrimage nor a religious one, though a stay in Venice and a residence in Rome were essential. John Locke argued that “knowledge comes entirely from the external senses, that what one knows comes from the physical stimuli to which one has been exposed.” Travel, therefore, was required for a young man to develop his mind and expand his knowledge of the world. The elite considered such travel as a necessary rite of passage.

The most common crossing of the English Channel from Dover to Calais, France and on to Paris took three days. Today, that same trip takes a matter of hours through the Channel Tunnel.

Paris, Rome, and Venice were not to be missed. Florence and Naples were also popular destinations. The Grand Tourist would travel from city to city and usually spend weeks in smaller cities and up to several months in the three key cities. Paris was definitely the most popular city as French was the most common second language of the British elite, plus the roads to Paris were excellent.

A Grand Tourist wouldn't carry much money due to the risk of highway robbers, so he, instead, carried letters of credit from his London banks to be presented at the major cities on his tour. Not much has changed today, as travelers more and more depend on credit cards for purchases and to obtain local currency.

Arriving in Paris, he would usually rent an apartment for several weeks or months and then take day trips from the city out into the French countryside or to Versailles. Often, Grand Tourists would stay at the homes of British envoys, who weren't all too happy to accommodate them. Today, many travelers reserve their accommodations ahead of their departure. And while the Grand Tourist may have rented deluxe apartments in the cities, he usually stayed in dirty roadside inns in smaller towns. Today's travelers can book elegant apartments at GoWithOh.co.uk.

From Paris, tourists would proceed across the Alps to Turin, the first Italian city they'd come to, then continue on to Rome or Venice. Initially, they only traveled as far south as Rome. However, when excavations began of Herculaneum in 1738 and Pompeii in 1748, they made a point of visiting them. Some wandered through Spain and Portugal while others sailed the Rhine and Danube Rivers to Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and Eastern Europe. Today, the Big Three — London, Paris, and Rome — are the key cities for first-time European travelers.

While the goal of the Grand Tour was educational, British gentlemen spent a great deal of time in more frivolous pursuits, such as extensive drinking, gambling, and intimate encounters. For some of today's travelers, this hasn't changed much.

The Grand Tour also allowed those who could afford it the opportunity to buy things otherwise unavailable at home, thus increasing their prestige and standing. Not much has changed here, either. Shopping is still a major part of any European tour.

The onset of the railroads in the early 19th century changed the face of tourism and travel across the Continent, drastically changing the Grand Tour.