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Style and Travel

The Grand Tours

Charlotte Metcalf reports on the art you can enjoy on your travels this year

17 June 2009

12:00 AM

17 June 2009

12:00 AM

Art History Abroad

Art History Abroad, previously featured in these pages for its gap years for school leavers and for adventurous mums, is offering a weekend in Venice for the Biennale. Its team of ‘passionate and knowledgeable’ tutors promises to open eyes and minds to contemporary art by providing tuition in and around the Biennale exhibits. All tuition is delivered on site and in small groups.

The weekend will include visits to the flagship Fare Mondi exhibition at the Arsenale, curated by Daniel Birnbaum, and a selection of the national pavilions in the Giardini, to see work by Steve McQueen, Bruce Nauman, Claude Leveque and Liam Gillick among others.

Art History Abroad prides itself on ‘no hostels, no classrooms, no flag-waving tour guides, just family hotels, vivid art, great tutors, great suppers and wonderful Italy’. True to form it is providing two nights at the charming and intimate Hotel Ca San Polo and good food at local trattorias in San Trovaso and Cannaregio. The team of tutors remains with the group throughout so that stimulating conversation about art can continue through dinner.

Nick Ross, who runs Art History Abroad, is convinced that art education should be a life-long interest and passion rather than a chore. ‘Transcapillarytremulation’ is the word Ross uses for the feeling when the hairs on the back of the neck rise in the presence of something awesome. In the wake of such enthusiasm, prepare to be awed.

10 to 12 July
Tel: 01284 774772

Insider’s Venice

Insider’s Venice, led by Venice veteran John Hall, is arranging a tour of Venice in October. Better known for his ‘Gap Year Venice’ courses, Hall also arranges annual week-long ‘semi-private tours for grown-ups’. This year the tour will focus on 18th-century Venice, particularly the work of Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo.

Last year I joined a tour. Our guide was Dr Bruna Caruso, a tiny but robust grandmother whose knowledge of her city was breathtaking and her passion for it infectious.

Hall knows how to entertain his guests after a few hours of peering at altarpieces or Titians in dank, chilly churches. Lunches and dinners are lavish and the wine flows. We were also housed in great comfort at the Hotel Monaco right on Piazza San Marco. Perhaps the highlight of the tour was when we took sole possession of the church of San Marco one evening and sat in the dark as the lights came on, slowly illuminating every gold mosaic with blazing drama. The trip would have been worth it just for that.

11 to 16 October
Tel: 0208 979 3331

Fine Art Travel

Last year I went to Madrid with Fine Art Travel and wrote about my trip in these pages. Now Fine Art Travel is venturing beyond Europe and offering its first trip to Istanbul in October. Lord Charles FitzRoy, founding director of Fine Art Travel, has identified people’s longing to get behind closed doors and his ability to arrange private visits to palaces and mansions is assured. He also ensures superb organisation, usually with ‘tour leader’ and fellow director Jane Rae. Fans of Fine Art Travel, who return again and again, are delighted by the attention to detail. This time Charles will be leading the tour himself and has Philip Mansel, the author of Constantinople, and Michael Rogers on board as lecturers.

Of course, the trip will include all of Instanbul’s main sights from the Grand Bazaar to the Blue Mosque but it is the private visits that will give the tour its trademark cachet. Charles, with his characteristic insistence on discretion, is unable to reveal the names of those Turkish hosts who will open their homes to his guests, but given that in Madrid we visited both the Duchess of Alba’s mansion and the home of la Condesa de Carvajal, daughter of the Marques de Santa Cruz, it is realistic to have high expectations.

12 to 17 October
Tel: 020 7437 8553

Art Pursuits

Art Pursuits, priding themselves on the excellence of their academic reputation and calibre of their lecturers, is offering three ‘study tours’ this September. The first, to Albi between the 10th and the 16th, will explore the mediaeval heritage of one of the most unspoilt areas of France. Guests will stay in the centre of Albi at a family-run four-star hotel that promises to be ‘beautifully atmospheric’. Dr Cathy Oakes will lead tours to various churches, cathedrals, palaces, abbeys and basilicas and to the fortified mediaeval town of Carcassonne.

The second, to Cortona in Italy between the 14th and 20th, will explore the great fresco cycles of the Renaissance in Umbria and Tuscany. Dr Antonia Whitley will provide expertise on Giotto and San Martini in Assisi, Piero della Francesca’s ‘Cycle of the True Cross’ in Arezzo and Signorelli’s apocalyptic ‘Last Judgment at Orvieto’. Guests will also see the work of Pinturicchio at Spello and Perugino in Perugia.

The third, to Verona between 21st and 27th, takes in Sirmione on Lake Garda, Brescia, Soave and the great ducal city of Mantua. Here the emphasis will be on the region’s magnificent Roman monuments and outstanding mediaeval and Renaissance art and architecture. Dr Joachim Strupp will guide.

Having attended a study day on Haydn at Art Pursuits’ Bloomsbury base in the Art Workers’ Guild, I can guarantee a warm welcome from its team. Art Pursuits aims to remain a small, friendly organisation and the people I talked to at the study day return again and again, delighted by constancy, familiar faces and outstanding lecturers.

Tel: 01280 820521

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