Legacies of Plagues: A social and medical history tour of Italy, France and Great Britain

29 Apr - 17 May 2024
  • Cultural Tours

About the tour

Plague has shaped our world. From ancient times through the Black Death to COVID-19, our medical, economic, culinary, social and art history has been irrevocably influenced by plague.

This tour follows the route of the Black Death through Europe, where it was first introduced by Genovese and Venetian merchants. Travelling through a range of beautiful European cities, each day will focus on a lasting legacy of plague; from marmots to mustard, to perfumes and pleasure, on conspiracies and scapegoats, art, architecture and town planning; learn the myriad ways plague has affected our world.

The tour includes a number of specialist visits, experiences, talks and culinary events, with expert guides and speakers connecting past and present. These experiences are combined with a journey through some of Europe’s most attractive and historic cities with excellent accommodation and opportunities to experience regional wines and cuisine along the way.

3 nights Venice – 1 night Bologna – 3 nights Florence - 2 nights Genoa – 2 nights Marseilles - 3 nights Lyon – 2 nights Paris – 2 nights London

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Itinerary at a glance

  • Day 1: Venice (Mon, 29 April) The Origins of Black Death – From Kyrgyzstan: Marmots, Rats and Fleas Arrive in Venice. Welcome and dinner.
  • Day 2: Venice (Tues, 30 April) Trade and the Plague - Caravanserai, Warriors, Merchants and Ships Tour by water exploring Italy's connection to the Silk Road and trade. See the Ca'D'oro and the houses of merchants and traders. Continue to Isola del Lazzaretto Nuovo, where lepers and visitors were isolated during plague outbreaks an early example of quarantine. Visit the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, dedicated to providing support for the victims of plague and known for its magnificent paintings related to the plague.
  • Day 3: Venice (Wed, 1 May) Understanding and Rationalising the Plague Take the train to Padua and visit its botanical gardens. Take a guided tour of the Renaissance Anatomical Theatre – the oldest in the world. Continue to the Scrovegni Chapel to see the Giotto frescoes. Return to Venice.
  • Day 4: Venice / Ferrara / Bologna (Thurs, 2 May) Mitigation, Quarantine and Public Health Drive to Ferrara and take a walking tour to learn how the city successfully dealt with the 17th century plague. Continue to Bologna and see the "good" and "bad" hospitals and visit the Museo di Palazzo Poggi and see its collection of anatomical wax model. Enjoy a glass of frizzante at Osteria del Sole, Bologna's oldest bar, which has not changed a great deal since 1465.
  • Day 5: Bologna - Florence (Fri, 3 May) Plagues and Art Take a walking tour of the city, including the Cathedral, Baptistery, Giotto's Bell Tower, Signoria Square, Ponte Vecchio and Santa Croce Square. Afternoon at leisure.
  • Day 6: Florence (Sat, 4 May) Surviving the Plague See the Ospedale Santa Maria Nuova, once a hospice for Black Death victims. Visit the beautiful Ospedale degli Innocenti (the Hospital of the Innocents), with magnificent Renaissance artworks. Visit the ornate Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy, one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, and the eclectic La Specola Museum, known for its collection of highly detailed wax anatomical models.
  • Day 7: Florence (Sun, 5 May) Living with the Plague - Help, Wine and Writing Visit the Misericordia Museum, dedicated to the society serving the people of Florence during the plague. Drive out into the Tuscan countryside, through Chianti and past vineyards and olive groves. At the Badia a Coltibuono Winery take part in lunch and a wine tasting. Return to Florence and take an optional walking tour of the ancient plague 'wine windows', some now re-opened with the option of a glass of wine.
  • Day 8 : Florence - Lucca – Genoa (Mon, 6 May) Maritime Routes Drive to the coast via the city of Lucca and understand the importance of walls in offering protection the medieval world. Arrive in Genoa mid afternoon and at leisure. Dinner at a local restaurant.
  • Day 9: Genoa (Tues, 7 May) The Knights of St John On a walking tour of Genoa visits include the Capuchin Convent of Annunziata di Portoria containing the mummified body of St Catherine of Genoa, and the the Commenda di San Giovanni di Pré (the Commandery of the Order of St John).
  • Day 10: Genoa / Marseilles (Wed, 8 May) Perfume and Pleasures Drive along the French Riveria and visit Grasse and the Frangonard Parfumeur. Continue to the great port city of Marseille for a local dinner and check into the Hotel Intercontinental.
  • Day 11: Marseilles (Thurs, 9 May) Conspiracies and Scapegoats Tour through the historic quarter of the city, which was struck by plague in 1720 despite elaborate protective measures.
  • Day 12: Marseilles / Lyon (Fri, 10 May) Beyond the Wall Drive to the lovely villages of Gordes. The villages of this part of Provence built the Mur del Pest (the 'wall of plague'), a 27 km wall manned with armed guards who requested plague permits in 1721 to keep the Great Plague out. Take the train to Lyon and check into the Hotel Charlemagne.
  • Day 13: Lyon (Sat, 11 May) Ex Machina In the 12th century the cult to the Virgin Mary developed in Lyon. In 1643 Europe was heavily affected by the second Bubonic plague, which also threatened Lyon. The citizens made a promise; to build a statue of the Virgin Mary if she could protect them from the plague. The city was spared from the plague and the promise was fulfilled. Take a city orientation tour.
  • Day 14: Lyon (Sun, 12 May) The Good Life - Food and Wine Approximately 25% of the population died during the Black Death, leading to employment shortages and subsequent political reform along with wage increases leading to better nutrition, for the majority of workers. This is a full day at leisure to enjoy the many delights in and around Lyon.
  • Day 15: Lyon – Dijon – Paris (Mon, 13 May) The Vicary Chicken, Theriac, Vinegar, Mustard and Nutmeg, some unusual plague remedies Drive from Lyon through Burgundy to visit the 15th century Hospice de Beaune, which functioned as a hospital and then a hospice until 1971. Continue to Dijon and visit the Maille boutique and learn of their plague cures. Take the train to Paris arriving in the evening and transfer to the Les Jardins du Marais.
  • Day 16: Paris (Tues, 14 May) Plagues, Painters and Town Planning Take a tour to learn how the city was redesigned by Baron Haussmann for the health of its densely populated inhabitants.
  • Day 17: Paris – London (Wed, 15 May) The Great Stink Take the Eurostar train to London and transfer to the Marylebone Hotel. Take a walking tour in the footsteps of Dr John Snow in Soho to learn about the evolution of medical anthropology and its role in combating cholera.
  • Day 18: London (Thurs, 16 May) Fire and Rebirth Travel to visit the Museum of St Bartholomew's hospital and Charterhouse Square, one of London's largest plague pits. Explore the narrow alleyways and byways of the City of London to see how the Plague & Great Fire of 1666 ravaged the City and how it was rebuilt. Visit the Hall of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries for a tour of this historic building.
  • Day 19: London (Fri, 17 May) Depart or take the extension (see below).


  • Day 19: London / Oxford / Buxton (Thurs, 18 May) Drive to St Mary's parish church, Ewelme. Cadaver-tombs displayed the deceased as they had been in their worldly glory but also including an effigy of a decaying corpse, usually placed in an openwork tomb chest below. Continue to Oxford for a tour. Drive to Buxton in Derbyshire and overnight.
  • Day 20: Buxton / Eyam / Chatsworth / London (Friday, 19 May) Visit the village of Eyam to meet Joan Plant, churchwarden and 9th generation descendant of Margaret Blackwell, and learn about the extraordinary history of this village that was shaped around 350 years ago when the village quarantined itself to avoid spreading the plague. Visit the stately home of Chatsworth. Return to London.

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