Guided sightseeing tours often represent the worst side of mass tourism. Thirty or 40 bored travelers, many of whom would rather be shopping or sitting in a sidewalk café, are led on a forced march behind a tour guide armed with a pennant or umbrella. Those in the front are treated to a canned lecture, while those in the back are unable to hear a word (unless they're equipped with radio headsets, which isolate them from the very sights they're seeing).
Sound familiar? If you dislike being herded and aren't phased by three-digit tour prices, the private walking itineraries offered by Venicescapes are an alternative worth considering.
An emphasis on the personal
Venicescapes itineraries are designed for individuals, families, and small groups. Each tour normally has a limit of six travelers, although that number may occasionally be stretched by one or two. Participants explore Venice on foot while learning about the historical and cultural context of the city's neighborhoods and monuments.
Five mix-and-match itineraries
Venicescapes offers a variety of itineraries that can be booked at random or scheduled as a package over several days. Topics include:
Story of a Mercantile Empire, a 5�-hour "wild rampage through the history of the world's greatest trading nation." The price includes a leather-bound VeniceScapes reference guide with architectural descriptions, full-color historical maps, and a timeline.
A City of Nations, which explores the "the tiny worlds created by the many ethnic groups that populated the Mediaeval and Renaissance city"--including the Jews who lived in Europe's first ghetto.
The Splendors of Piety, a six-hour introduction to Venice's great churches and religious art. If you're short on time, you can request a shorter (and less expensive) four-hour tour.
A Most Serene Republic, "an astonishing tale of conspiracy, feud, assassinatin, and politicking" that chronicles Venice's government and judicial system during the Republic's heyday.
The Age of Decadence, a six-hour exporation of Venice's "time of economic decline, political decay, and moral depravity," which led to the fall of the Venetian Republic.
The Art of Salvation, an intinerary that was in preparation when this article was last updated. (It will focus on the role of Tintoretto, Veronese, and Palma Giovane in helping to preserve and promote Catholic spirituality through visual art.)
Venicescapes' prices aren't cheap, but they're within the range of affordability for travelers who stay at four- or five-star hotels and dine at Harry's Bar. Expect to pay US $250 or more for two people, plus incidental transportation charges and admission fees. Additional participants are charged US $60 each for adults, or $30 for those under 18.
For more information, including detailed descriptions of the five walking itineraries and acceptable forms of payment, visit the Venicescapes Web site.