Saturday, 8 November 2008

Grand Tour of Europe

Wealthy people have always traveled 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. As long ago as the time of the Roman Empire, there were popular coastal resorts such as Sorrento and Capri for the rich. 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.

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 Lessels in his 1670 book ‘Voyage to 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.

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 notorious for more frivolous pursuits such as getting pissed, partying heavily and having it off with as many continental lovelies as possible. Jolly good fun then I imagine, put me down for some of that!

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 and Florence and also Naples were popular destinations. 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 itinery. Paris 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. Rome was initially the southernmost point they would travel to but when excavations began at Herculaneum and Pompeii the two sites also became additional major destinations on the Grand Tour. There were no airlines or railways of course so all of their travel was by carriage or by sea. These days it is easier with a much greater range of transport options.

Other locations included as part of some Grand Tours included Spain and Portugal, Germany, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Baltic. 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. They 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 dominance of English customers.

This sort of thing really appeals to me; both the finding out about things 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. The problem with that is that I have full time job and I certainly cannot afford to take a four year sabbatical break so I have developed an alternative Grand Tour method and that is to take absolutely full advantage of the low cost airlines.

There are forty-six countries in Europe and I have only so far been to twenty-three so I am 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 six hundred and twenty-eight low fare routes across twenty-six European countries. In the last three years I have flown twenty-six 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 Budapest at just £11.43. 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 £1,620 to go to Budapest and back by train!

However I have now beaten that bargain and in December I have a flight to Santander in Cantabria in Spain for just £10 return and then in January to Oporto in Portugal for the same price, made up off £2 for the flight and £8 for the credit card booking fee, but hey, who’s complaining about that? Certainly not me. Up until now Spain has never been my favourite but after my golfing holiday there in May this year on the Costa Blanca I have resolved to find the real Spain and since then I have been to Galicia twice, I am off to Seville later this month, Santander before the end of the year and Madrid next March. I am becoming rather fond of the Spain away from the busy coastal seaside resorts.

In 2007 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 France disputes the official figures) and the most visited place was Trafalgar Square, followed by the Eiffel Tower and then the Vatican. These statistics are produced by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, which has its headquarters in Madrid, and is a United Nations agency dealing with questions relating to tourism and which compiles the annual World Tourism rankings. For the record I visited Trafalgar Square in 2008, the Eiffel Tower in 2002 and the Vatican in 2003.

These are the countries that I have visited so far and as you can see I have covered most of the west but need to make more of an effort to go to Scandinavia, where the prices have so far put me off, and the east where tourism is so far not so well developed.


Andy said...

Life was much more leisurely in the days of the Grand Tour. Now you can leave London at 9 in the morning by Eurostar change to a TGV at Lille and be in Nice by 5. Is there honestly any need to rush like that-after all they say to travel hopefully is better than to arrive!

peter said...

I liked the post.Recently, I visited Tenerife Hotels one of the best hotel in Spain. I went to spent my vacations and it was a cool experience being there.