A recent article in the Telegraph (12 March 2016) reminded me that I have never posted the review of my excellent holiday last year with the same company, “Painting in Italy”:http://www.paintinginitaly.com so, somewhat belatedly, here it is.
In total contrast to a very disappointing painting holiday last year (2013 – see my previous review), this one ticked all the boxes – and plenty more – yet it cost the same.
At the end of May 2015 I flew out to Venice from Gatwick. The day before departure our holiday organizer, Sheila de Vries, Director of ‘Painting in Italy’, had taken the trouble to phone me and confirm that she would be at the airport by midday to meet those of us arriving on different flights from the UK. She also asked if I had any other special requests or requirements. Our flights were on time and luggage unloaded without delay. As promised, Sheila met us and, to facilitate introductions, swiftly acquired a bottle of chilled Prosecco from the bar which we enjoyed before trundling our cases along the walkway to the embarkation pontoons. Here a private water taxi awaited us and we were whisked across the lagoon, under clear blue skies, to our hotel on Venice Lido. A perfect start to a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding week in this magical city. At least 50% of our group had already enjoyed another holiday organised by Sheila, so that was a good recommendation from day one.
Sheila provided each of us with a Venezia Unica pass, which allowed unlimited travel on public transport and entrance to selected museums for the week. Once settled in the Hotel Atlanta Augustus in Via Lepanto we used it that same afternoon to take a vaporetto (public water bus) across the lagoon for a trip around the outskirts of the city. I hadn’t been to Venice for nigh on 20 years and although little had changed I was shocked at the sight of huge, overpowering cruise ships moored so near to St Mark’s Square and also the station, looming like modern, monolithic tower blocks, dwarfing the historic Byzantine domes and buildings of Venice. It only takes 5 of these huge vessels moored alongside the city for the tourist population to immediately increase to well in excess of 200,000. These days as the indigenous population continues to decrease (today barely more than 50,000), Venice is highly dependent economically upon the tourist trade, but the narrow streets become filled with cruise tourists who probably contribute very little to the Venetian coffers as all their requirements in the way of accommodation and meals are provided on board.
Our painting tutor was the accomplished, enthusiastic and supportive Fiona Graham-MacKay. I’d listened to her engaging conversation, broadcast on Radio 4 in 2014, with the former Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, whilst she painted his portrait. We painted with the help of her tuition each day before lunch – a couple of mornings on the Lido, another on the island of Burano and for the rest we travelled into the city. Thankfully our painting locations were well away from the most frequented parts of the city so we were barely bothered with crowds. Before leaving the hotel we would have a brief group session about the painting location and what we could expect. Fiona would ensure she visited each of us whilst painting, taking photos of us and our work, dispensing advice, encouragement and gentle constructive criticism. In the afternoons we were free to continue painting or explore the city and surroundings. We would meet up with her again in the evenings before dinner for an overview of our day’s creativity with feedback.
On our final evening we enjoyed an exhibition of our holiday artwork in the breakfast room (with plenty of the now customary Prosecco!), and Fiona surprised us with a special presentation which explained why she had taken so many photos of us painting. It was a slideshow on her laptop of our work interspersed with these photos taken during the week, plus musical accompaniment.
Our evening meals were a delight. Sheila had made reservations for us in three different restaurants over the week, all within walking distance of the hotel, where we were able to select typical Venetian dishes from the à la carte menus accompanied by abundant carafes of wine and excellent service. The hotel itself was clean and well appointed, located a short distance from the main drag overlooking a quiet canal, only let down by the somewhat unexciting breakfasts on offer – not a lot of choice or selection (see my other review) – and I would have so enjoyed just a simple slice of toast!
In addition to Venice, Sheila’s company also offers holidays in Cortona, Florence, Saragano and Montefalco – not only painting but cooking too – and it’s worth mentioning that there is no single supplement to pay. Sheila’s organisation and attention to detail are second to none, and nothing is too much trouble. I wouldn’t hesitate to travel with her company for my next painting holiday.