Tate revives the Grand Tour with package holidays to continental cultural hotspots (and Lanzarote)

One is a temple to high art that attracts millions seeking enlightenment from the creative genius of Turner or the Chapman brothers. The other is a sunkissed holiday haunt overrun by multitudes seeking nothing more taxing than a tan and a bar selling cheap lager.

But in an age where Britain's cultural institutions are increasingly forced to cash in on their fame to supplement their ever-tightening budgets, it seems that the Tate Galleries and Lanzarote have found a common cause.

Managers of the country's most-visited galleries announced an expansion of their commercial activities yesterday - which already range from selling limited-edition etchings to iced gingerbread biscuits in the shape of the Tate Modern - to include cultural holidays to destinations from Vatican City to the Canary Islands.

The Tate Holiday Collection, a joint venture with one of Britain's biggest tour operators, will offer discerning travellers an art-orientated insight into a series of European destinations drawn up by the museums' curators and specialists, who will also accompany some of the tours.

Directors of the galleries, whose showpiece attraction, the Tate Modern in London, has attracted 11 million visitors since it opened in 2000, insisted that far from being guilty of naked commercialism, the new sideline was merely making use of a pool of talent among its staff. Alex Beard, the Tate's deputy director, said: "Tate can draw upon a vast range of knowledge and experience of cultural centres throughout Europe. Our curators and art historians travel extensively, viewing art and visiting collections around the world.

"As a result, Tate Holidays can offer original and well-devised itineraries which make the most of your time and offer a few quirky suggestions."

As well as featuring the usual stop-offs on any cultural sojourn such as the Doge's Palace in Venice, Gaudi's Barcelona, the Prado in Madrid or the Accademia in Florence, the Tate is offering trips to what it considers more off-beat locations, namely Lanzarote.

Managers said they wanted to challenge preconceptions about the resort by showing its rich artistic heritage. As the brochure for the holidays puts it: "The Canary Islands are hardly renowned as major artistic centres. However, Lanzarote is a treasure trove of hidden artistic and natural wonders. It truly thrills the soul." The eight-day Lanzarote tours, which start on 22 January and cost from £1,115 per person, focus on the work of Cesar Manrique, a local artist. Ironically, the sculptor made it his life's work to counter the impact of mass tourism on the island by creating art across its landscape, art that is now viewed by travelling aesthetes, including those from the Tate.

But despite the insistence of the galleries that the holidays are inspired by high ideals, observers will see a more practical reason for the Tate's foray into the cut-throat world of travel. The trustees of the galleries, which as well as the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain in London, have outposts in St Ives and Liverpool, warned in 2002 that they were facing a budget shortfall for 2004 of £1.5m. They have subsequently managed to secure the extra funding but like other institutions, such as the British Museum and the Natural History Museum, the Tate is increasingly having to look beyond state subsidy, which currently stands at about £28m, to make ends meet. Around 50 per cent of its income now comes from non-government sources such as donations, corporate sponsorship, ticket sales and commercial ventures.

The Tate-branded holidays, which range from two nights in Barcelona for £360 to an eight-day tour of northern Italy costing more than £1,200, are being offered in a joint venture with Magic Travel Group.

The company has become the holiday company of choice for affluent middle-class travellers and was recently bought by the German travel giant TUI, which also owns Lunn Poly and the Thomson group. Museum officials declined to discuss how much they expect to make from the project but the Tate will receive a "minimum" of 4 per cent of the selling price of each holiday, representing between £14 and £51 for every customer. They denied, however, that money was the motivation for lending the Tate's name to high-grade package tours. A spokesman said: "The primary reason for the project is to continue to expand access to the four Tate galleries."

The venture started last autumn when the Tate began offering short breaks to Venice to coincide with its current exhibition of paintings of the city by Turner. Managers have now decided to expand the scheme to include five cities and four tour packages, which also offer each participant a year's free membership of the Tate.

It is a marriage of high values and filthy lucre which the institution has embraced with considerable gusto. Carrying the logo "Look Again, Think Again", the holidays come complete with a £115 "Tate Pack", including a detailed guide and itinerary drawn up by a curator, a pass to the VIP lounge at Gatwick airport and, in an apparent attempt to inspire customers to creativity, a selection of Tate-branded sketch books and drawing materials.

As well as offering "Tate-endorsed" hotels, some of the trips will be accompanied by specialists from the Tate, thereby turning some of the country's leading art historians into a new breed of particularly erudite tour guide.

The result, if the breathless brochure blurb is to be believed, is not so much a few days in the sun looking at works of art as nothing less than a cultural and philosophical awakening. Dr Jennifer Greitschus, the Tate specialist who drew up the Lisbon tour, which incorporates visits to a wrought-iron elevator and a café to eat a cinnamon-topped cream cake, writes: "The guides and itineraries are designed to inspire people to engage with art, architecture and cultures in an uninhibited way.

"A site of interest should not just be about names and dates to be ticked off a list - rather it is part of a web of experiences and discoveries."

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