Venice Revealed: Secret Treasures of the Serenissima

September 23rd - 27th 2024

UPDATE: THIS TOUR IS NOW FULLY BOOKED. Email us if you would like to join a waiting list, indicating how many places you are interested in booking. Friends of Art History in Focus will have priority if places become available.

In 2024 Art History in Focus will celebrate its 20th anniversary and to mark this special occasion we are delighted to invite you to join us on an exclusive tour to Venice, led by Art History in Focus director Siân Walters and Luisella Romeo, one of Venice’s most authoritative and popular guides. The itinerary will include many of the sites which we have visited together online during our livestream visits over the past three years, and so it will be a pleasure to take you to see these in person.

There is a special emphasis on private openings, exclusive visits and hidden gems which are not easily accessible and which most never see. These include a private viewing of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection outside normal opening hours; a gala dinner and chamber concert in the magnificent ballroom of the Ca’ Sagredo; a visit to see the extraordinary collection of manuscripts in the monastic Library of San Francesco della Vigna, and other exclusive openings just for us, by courtesy of their owners or directors.

We will enjoy a unique excursion to the lesser-known island of Mazzorbo, with a wine-tasting and lunch at the Venissa wine estate, voted by Condé Nast as one of Best Wine Resorts in the World.  It is a haven of peace and tranquillity, as is nearby San Francesco del Deserto, a tiny monastic island only accessible via private appointment.

Travelling in the early autumn means that we will avoid the heavy crowds found during the summer months, yet the weather is often still clement in late September. Our visits will be punctuated with excellent dinners and lunches with wine (all included).

Some of our visits have important literary associations, and our walks will often be accompanied by references to the poems and writings of various well-known travellers and authors who have visited the city over the years.

We look forward to welcoming you!

Important Note: Please study the tour details below as well as the attached document (Venice Revealed – Practical Notes) carefully before booking, thank you. These contain essential information about the booking requirements as well as practical advice.

There has been a great deal of interest in this tour so we recommend booking early to avoid disappointment, as spaces are strictly limited.  Please note that due to high demand we cannot guarantee availability. Places are allocated on a first come, first served basis.


Pre-Tour Study Day (Tuesday 17th September)
For those who are able to come, there will be a complimentary study morning in London a few days before the tour begins, giving us an opportunity to meet other members of the group and explore works by Venetian artists in the National Gallery collection. The introductory late morning tour, led by Siân Walters, will last approximately 1½ hours. You may like to join the group for lunch (optional) afterwards.

Day 1 (Monday 23rd September)
There will be free time today to arrive and enjoy the city at leisure.

Join us in the early evening for a drinks reception in the Ca’ Sagredo, a stunning 15th century palazzo of outstanding historic importance. The palace’s portego on the piano nobile is decorated with beautiful 18th-century landscapes and overlooks the Grand Canal. The magnificent frescoed halls and monumental marble staircases of the palace transport one back in time to the grandeur and hedonism of the Venetian Golden Age, and its rooms boast artworks by many of the leading artists of the 17th and 18th century including Sebastiano Ricci, Pietro Longhi and Giambattista Tiepolo.

Afterwards we will enjoy a 5-course tasting menu with matching wines (included) at one of Cannaregio’s most well-known restaurants.

Day 2 (Tuesday 24th September)
Venice is divided into six districts or “sestieri” and today we spend the day exploring our local neighbourhood of Cannaregio which offers a glimpse of the hidden Venice, less visited by tourists.

We will convene at the Ca’ Sagredo and depart on foot with Siân and Luisella for a full day’s guided tour including an exclusive private opening of the Oratorio dei Crociferi, a true hidden gem of the city which contains one of the greatest masterpieces by Palma il Giovane. The eight canvases recount the story of the Order of the Crociferi and its charitable activities, reflecting the history of social assistance in Venice. We then explore the area around the Campo dei Gesuiti and admire masterpieces of art in the Gesuiti church, including works by Titian and Tintoretto.

After lunch (included) in the restored Ex Convento dei Crociferi, you will enjoy a private opening of the Contarini Dal Zaffo gardens, which are not open to the public.  In the 16th century the garden and palace belonged to the Renaissance scholar and theologian Gasparo Contarini, who is buried in the nearby church of Madonna dell’Orto. This was Tintoretto’s local church, where several of his greatest canvases can be found. We end the day with a guided tour of the Ca’ d’Oro, one of the architectural masterpieces of the Grand Canal. It was restored by Baron Giorgio Franchetti who in 1916 donated both the palace and his impressive collection of art, including works by Mantegna, Carpaccio and Pisanello, to the Italian state.

This evening we enjoy a drinks reception in the Ca’ Sagredo followed by a private recital given by the Mandolin Venice Ensemble, a chamber group dedicated to showcasing the unlimited richness of Italian Classical Music for plucked instruments, a tradition which began in Venice and gained international renown with the wonderful concertos of Vivaldi and his contemporaries. The concert is followed by a gala dinner, hosted in the magnificent ballroom of the Ca’ Sagredo, a space which extends to a height of two floors and is decorated with a series of illusionistic architectural frescoes by Gaspare Diziani.  It will be a unique and memorable experience to enjoy music and dinner in such a historic setting.

Day 3 (Wednesday 25th September)
We will convene at the Ca’ Sagredo and depart by private water taxi for a morning’s slow cruise along the Grand Canal.

We then arrive in style, alighting at the private water-front entrance of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, where we are privileged to have been granted permission for an exclusive private opening of the museum. Our guided tours will be led by Siân and Luisella.

Peggy Guggenheim was one of the most important art patrons of the 20th century and became one of the most influential collectors of contemporary art, commissioning works from leading painters and sculptors such as Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Jackson Pollock and Joan Miró. Her private collection was displayed in her home in Venice, the impressive Palazzo Venier dei Leoni situated on the Grand Canal, and was donated to The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in the 1970s. It is now one of the most popular museums in the city.

After time for coffee we will enjoy a walking tour of the Dorsoduro district including a private visit to the Squero San Trovaso, Venice’s oldest continually operating squero or boatyard, dating back to the 17th century. Visits are permitted by special arrangement only, so this will be a unique opportunity to not only learn about the rich history of Venice’s iconic gondola, but witness first-hand the traditional techniques employed to make, repair and maintain them.

We will enjoy a delicious traditional lunch (included) in a delightful nearby trattoria, including a cicchetti course (these are Venetian small plates or tapas).

Finally there will be a guided tour of the Gallerie dell’Accademia. The gallery contains the most important collection of Venetian art in the world, with highlights including Titian’s Pietà, Veronese’s Feast in the House of Levi and Gentile Bellini’s Procession in St. Mark’s Square. We will also take time to study some important recent acquisitions such as Samson and Delilah by Giulia Lama, a rare example of a female artist working in 18th century Venice.

The day ends with dinner (included) at one of Cannaregio’s best-loved restaurants.

Day 4 (Thursday 26th September)
The monastic Library of San Francesco della Vigna is still one of the hidden treasures of Venice and today we will enjoy an exclusive private tour of its precious collection of manuscripts and ancient printed books, accompanied by Brother Rino Sgarbossa who for many years has taken care of and promoted these collections. These include the first “encyclopaedia” ever printed in history; rare editions of the Bible including the first ever Torah published in Venice; and the earliest printed maritime atlas, written by the Elizabethan courtier and explorer Sir Robert Dudley.

Important patrician families such as the Gritti and the Grimani financed the monastic church, which we will also visit, whose elegant façade designed by Andrea Palladio stands next to the ancient cloisters.

After coffee we board our privately chartered boat for an excursion to the atmospheric and picturesque islands of the Venetian Lagoon. The main islands such as Murano are well known to visitors, but our special alternative tour offers us an unusual opportunity of visiting some lesser-known places, which are havens of serenity and beauty.

We start with a private wine tasting on the island of Mazzorbo, at the Venissa wine estate.  This is the home to the only hectare (in the world) of the rare Dorona grape, native to the Venetian Lagoon and cultivated for many centuries until it almost became extinct after the acqua alta of 1966. It was rediscovered by the Bisol family (of Prosecco fame) and is now used to produce one of the most sought-after wines in the world. We then enjoy a relaxed lunch in the estate’s renowned Osteria Contemporanea, which featured recently in Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy culinary television documentary series.

After lunch (included) you may like to walk across the vineyard and over the bridge to neighbouring Burano, famous for its lace shops and richly colourful facades, or simply enjoy the peace and tranquillity of Mazzorbo.

Finally, our boat will take us to nearby San Francesco del Deserto, a tiny monastic island not accessible by any public transport. The hermitage here was, according to legend, founded by Saint Francis of Assisi himself. Our guided tour of the church and monastery will be led by one of the friars.

We will return to Venice in the early evening. Dinner tonight is independent.

Day 5 (Friday 27th September)
This morning we will explore the San Marco and Castello districts on foot. We will see the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, the largest church in Venice and burial site of doges; the facade of the Scuola Grande di San Marco, one of the most important facades of the Venetian Renaissance; and the exquisite church Santa Maria dei Miracoli, one of Venice’s architectural gems.

After coffee in Campo Santa Maria Formosa we will enjoy a specially arranged guided tour of the Palazzo Grimani. The palace and its impressive museum have been recently restored and boast stately architecture, wonderful frescoes and an impressive archaeological collection which reflects the wide-ranging collecting interests of one of the main protagonists of 16th century Venice, the Patriarch of Aquileia, Giovanni Grimani.

A delicious al fresco lunch (included) is served in a much-loved nearby trattoria, located in a Renaissance palace designed by the architect Mauro Codussi.

For those able to stay after lunch, join Siân and Luisella for a walk to Piazza San Marco where we enjoy a short architectural tour, before returning together to Cannaregio along the Grand Canal.

Further Information

Itinerary and Meals
Your tour lecturers will lead guided tours as outlined on all days.  A detailed itinerary will be provided nearer the time along with historical notes. Everything will be done to ensure that the details of the trip remain as indicated, but sites may close without warning, and if this happens we will always make every effort to organise alternative arrangements.

All meals (lunch and dinner) are included as in the outlined Tour/Guided Excursion apart from dinner on the 26th September.  Lunch is normally a 3-course informal meal in a trattoria, with water, wine, coffee and service included.  Dinner is normally a 3- or 4-course meal in a more formal restaurant, with water, wine, coffee and service included.  Please indicate when making your online booking whether you have any dietary requirements as it is very important for us to know this in advance. We will do everything we can to accommodate these, however the Tour/Guided Excursion would not, with regret, be suitable for those with severe food allergies such as a peanut allergy, as we cannot for example guarantee that all restaurants will have a nut-free environment. Please do contact us before booking if you have any special request or requirement, so that we can discuss these with you before booking.

Travel Arrangements 
Accommodation, Transport (eg flights) and Transfers are not included in the Tour/Guided Excursion outlined, allowing you to make travel arrangements that suit your preferred departure date/airport and accommodation that suits your requirements. You may also wish to extend your stay in Venice on either side of the Tour/Guided Excursion dates, and as flight delays and cancellations can occur, we would suggest arriving the day before the Tour/Guided Excursion starts to mitigate for any unforeseen circumstances.

We are however happy to provide some suggestions of hotels in the peaceful Cannaregio district of Venice, which you can find here: Venice Revealed – Practical Notes. Our meeting point each morning will be the lobby of the Ca’ Sagredo in Campo S. Sofia, and we will return here each evening. We would therefore suggest booking accommodation that is nearby.

We require a minimum number of participants to run the tour, and will confirm in writing to all those booked as soon as that number has been reached. We would advise waiting for us to contact you before paying for your flights and accommodation, although you may like to reserve these provisionally in the interim. We anticipate however that the tour spaces will fill very quickly.

How Strenuous?
Please note that there is a lot of walking and standing involved in the Tour/Guided Excursion, including uneven ground, steps/stairs (some sites do not have lifts), and regular embarking/disembarking from boats.  This particular Tour/Guided Excursion would not, with regret, be suitable for those who need support, tire easily, or are unable to walk at a fairly brisk pace.

There will however be regular coffee stops and breaks each day, and the use of headsets for guiding allowing you to sit down when listening to your lecturer ‘s commentaries, if seats are available.

Please do contact us before booking if you are unsure, as we would be very glad to provide further information if required.

If you have a medical condition which may affect your holiday or necessitate special arrangements being made for you, please do discuss these with us before booking. If a special request or requirement is vital to your booking, it must be specifically agreed with us before or at the time you book. Please see our Terms and Conditions for further details.

We may sometimes divide the group to ensure that all the visits can be enjoyed comfortably, especially in smaller locations such as libraries.

The  price will be £2199 per person. The price includes fully guided tours with Siân Walters and Luisella Romeo who will accompany the group all day and during meals; a number of specially arranged private visits; private water taxis where indicated; a 3-day vaporetto pass (Wednesday to Friday); all dinners and lunches including wine (apart from dinner on the 26th); two private drinks receptions; a private recital; a wine-tasting at Venissa; gratuities; receiver headsets to listen to guide/lecturer from a distance; tour notes; reservations and all entrance fees in the itinerary.

It does not include meals other than those indicated; transport and transfers to and from Venice; accommodation; insurance; drinks other than those indicated (such as cocktails or after-dinner drinks, or drinks during coffee breaks); the services of your tour lecturers outside the hours of the Tour/Guided Excursion, and personal spending.

Participation and Booking
If you would like to join the tour please complete the online booking form. Please note a £225 non-refundable deposit is required at the time of booking.

Once you have completed the online form and paid a deposit or full payment (as applicable), you will receive a provisional confirmation that your booking has been received. This confirms that we have received your booking request – we will confirm as soon as possible if your booking has been accepted (this may be dependent on availability).

Important Note: Please do ensure that you have completed all the fields of the booking form otherwise we will be unable to accept your booking and your deposit will be refunded. Many thanks.

Once your booking has been accepted, we will notify you by email. If you have not received an email confirmation, please check your ‘deleted items’ and ‘junk mail’ folders. If you have not received a confirmation please do contact us to ensure that we have received your booking.

We will send your full travel details and other practical information approximately 3-4 weeks before travel. Numbers on this trip are strictly limited and there has already been a lot of interest, so do get in touch as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

Please refer to our Terms and Conditions for booking this trip.

Priority Booking
Friends of Art History in Focus have priority booking. Friends of Art History in Focus with joint accounts are most welcome to use the priority window to book a place for the secondary account holder on their account. Friends of Art History in Focus with single accounts may only book one place during the priority booking window.

Important note
Art History in Focus does not offer Package Tours or Holidays. To join one of our Tours/Guided Excursions, you are responsible for arranging your own transport and accommodation independently. We would highly recommend booking these together through a tour operator in order to benefit from ATOL protection and financial protection for these components.  We are neither responsible nor liable for these third-party services.

It is not possible to only book part of the Tour/Guided Excursion – the price is inclusive of all meals, tours and visits outlined in the tour description.