It was back in 1928 that a 17-year-old Vincent Price first stepped foot on European soil as part of his Grand Tour, where he finally got to see the great works of art that he was so passionate about. His tour took in seven art capitals, beginning in the UK on 14 July and ending in France on 26 August.
Recently, ESC Tours – which is run by his daughter Victoria Price and Vincent Price Legacy UK curator Peter Fuller – put together a series of bespoke tours in Belgium, the Netherlands and France, that not only followed in Vincent’s footsteps, but also paid homage to his life philosophy – to be forever curious about the world around you. Here’s what happened…
On Tuesday 21 May, our first port of call was the historic Huis ter Duin in Noordwijk, where Vincent Price stayed with his tour group in 1928. It was here that, according to his personal diary, he had a transcendental connection with his mother back home in his home town in St Louis, Missouri. We took a bracing walk along the beach, attempted a little ESP connection to those who had gone or lived apart from us – just as Vincent did – then toured the hotel where Vincent’s group stayed 91 years ago. Much has changed of course — lots of renovation and extensions have taken place on the historic hotel (where the Dutch royals once resided alongside the upper classes here) — but it was a great start to our journey.
We then headed off to Delft, famous, of course, for the Dutch Baroque Period painter Johannes Vermeer and its iconic blue and white tiles. Our tour of the city mainly centred on the town square, which was featured in an iconic sequence in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre.
On Wednesday 22 May, we headed into Wallonia, famous for its ancient castles, fortresses and beautiful scenery, where we visited a museum dedicated to the Belgian cartoonist Hergé (of Tintin fame), took lunch at Maredsous Abbey, where they produce their own beer and cheese, and toured some castle ruins in Montaigle. We also happened to chance upon a film shoot taking place at remote property that looked ever so spooky — we think it may have been for a horror film.
Thursday 23 May and it was time to board our Mystery Machine again for the drive to Ghent where we strolled through the famous ancient city, visited St Bavo’s Cathedral to see the famed Ghent Altarpiece, Het Lam Gods, and took a self-guided tour Gravensteen Castle (where we were rather disappointed to find that its dungeon was no more).
After some retail therapy and a rest-up at a local cafe, we headed to the coast, to Oostende, where we checked into the glorious Thermae Palace hotel — a real gem and reminder of the past — where Harry Küme’s classic Belgium vampire horror, Daughters of Darkness (aka Les Lèvres Rouges), was filmed (check out my now and then shots below). During our walk on the beach at sunset we couldn’t resist recreating our own version of the Ghent Altarpiece when we chanced upon a steel sculpture inspired by it.
Our road trip concluded on Friday 24 May with us heading back to Schipol via the abandoned city of Doel. Now this is not on any normal tour, but is a must. It’s a ghost town that’s turned into living art – and the total antithesis of the other attraction we visited – Kinderdijk, a picture postcard Dutch village filled with windmills and coachloads of tourists (which the locals hate BTW).
Saying goodbye to our Mystery Machine, and to some of our group, we took the train into Amsterdam, where we met up with a new group of campers for a welcome dinner at De Kas, a fab farm-to-table restaurant located in a set of greenhouses that date back to the 1920s. This would be the first of three elaborate meals that we would have during our stay. The Dutch love their taster menus — and boy do they know how to do them.
Our Amsterdam adventure kicked off properly on Saturday 25 May with a visit to the Rijksmuseum, home to Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (one of the key works of art that Vincent saw for the first time – up, close and personal – in 1928).
We also visited the All the Rembrandts Exhibition, which presented 22 paintings, 60 drawings and more than 300 best examples of Rembrandt’s prints. Interestingly, Vincent’s first piece of art that he bought was a Rembrandt etching. Unfortunately, it was never recorded as to which piece it was — so we shall never know what became of it.
You can read more about Vincent’s stay in The Netherlands and his love of art by reading this excerpt from My Trip Abroad: https://vincentpricejournal.wordpress.com/i-like-what-i-know-a-visual-autobiography-by-vincent-price-1959/
One of the activities we do on our tours is pick our favourite piece from each art collection that we visit and then discuss it later. This piece, Saul and the Witch of Endor, attracted the attention of three of us in the group — probably on account of its occult themes and its fantastical creatures.
We were also treated to a mammoth three-hour five-course lunch at the Michelin-starred Rijks restaurant, which had ‘traded spaces’ with a farm-to-table restaurant in Bali called Locavore. The quality was excellent, and the quanity bountiful — but no room for dinner this evening.
The Museum Quarter in Amsterdam was a great place to start our city break, and some of our group took the opportunity to visit the new Moco Contemporary Art Museum, which was dedicated to the works of the street artist Banksy, as well as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Daniel Arsham. I think I loved the setting, the historic Villa Alsberg, as much as the artwork.
Sunday 26 May found our group splitting up to visit Rembrandt’s House and the Amsterdam Dungeon (which was whole lot of fun), then we all met up to tour the Anne Frank House, where Anne, her family and four other people who hid from the Nazis in rooms in the secret annex during World War Two. This was truly a sobering, educational visit, and is a must-do when in the city.
The evening was all about Vincent Price as we headed to Lab 111 for a presentation by Victoria about her dad’s legacy, followed by a screening of House of the Long Shadows starring Vincent alongside Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing — which was perfect as it was Peter’s birthday today, while Vincent and Chris’ birthday is May 27.
And speaking of birthday’s, on Monday 27 May, we celebrated what would have been Vincent’s 108th birthday by doing the things he would have done – we headed to an art museum, of course. In this case, it was the Van Gogh Museum, which was a true delight and a place I could happily return to time and again.
You can’t not head to Amsterdam without doing a canal cruise, which took in the well-known districts of the Pijp, the Jordaan and the Red Light District, as we sailed past iconic bridges and the picturesque merchant houses — including ones that featured in the Bond classic, Diamonds Are Forever, starring Sean Connery.
We ended the day with a meal at the Restaurant La Rive in the Amstel Hotel, where Vincent and Mary Price also visited and included in their acclaimed culinary tome, A Treasury of Great Recipes. This was another gastromonic affair where we got a true taste of haute cuisine.
On Tuesday 28 May, we had planned on a day trip to of Haarlem before taking the train to Paris — but misfortune struck in the form of a public transport strike. So we ended up on a Eurolines coach — which took many hours. Not a great start to the final part of our European adventure, but we are all laughing about it now.
Vincent Price ended his Grand Tour of 1928 in Paris, where he visited so many of Paris’s justly famous cultural sites. We planned to do the same — and added in a few more that have since become part of the pantheon of the City of Lights.
So, on Wednesday 29 May, we began with a morning tour of the Musee d’Orsay art gallery set in a stunning converted Beaux Arts railway station, followed by lunch at 1.30pm at the Eiffel Tower’s 58 Tour restaurant (which has the best views of Paris in my book). In the afternoon, we cruised the Seine, and concluded with dinner at Café de l’Empire, where confit duck was the speciality. A big day indeed… and much needed after that long journey the day before.
If you’d like to read what Vincent had to say about his visit to Paris in 1928, check out this excerpt from My First Trip Abroad: https://vincentpricejournal.wordpress.com/2016/08/23/vincent-price-on-paris-the-louvre-and-ethel-barrymore/
For horror fans, visiting Notre Dame and the Palais Opera Garnier is a must when in Paris — especially regarding their links to those classics of the horror genre, The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. While Notre Dame was closed due to the recent devastating fire, when we visited on Thursday 30 May, some of the group took a tour of the Opera House while others explored the nearby Galleries Lafayette, for a bit of retail therapy.
Then it was off to the Louvre – unquestionably one of the finest art galleries in the world with some 380,000 objects from pre-history to the 21st century with 35,000 works of art over 8 departments on display. After a good few hours there, we finished the day with dinner at La Grande Mosquée de Paris — which was so relaxing after the hussle and bustle of the Louvre and its many tourists.
On Friday, 31 May, we had a couple of different options. Some went off to explore some obscure sites of Paris, others wanted to rest, and another group headed to Fontainebleau to visit the historic town and take in an equestrian fair.
On Saturday 1 June, Victoria lead an EverWalk excursion through the Marais, while I took a group to visit the Catacombs — but a yellow vests demonstration resulted in the police closing it for most of the day.
But all was not lost as we headed to Père Lachaise Cemetery for the rest of the afternoon and ended the day with one of the most touristy things ever — dinner and a show at the Moulin Rouge.
Our adventures ended on a real high on Sunday 2 June with a trip to Disneyland Paris. Yes, I know its for kids and families — but we were guests of Disney because they have reintroduced Vincent’s original narration into the Phantom Manor attraction.
This was a fantastic opportunity to accompany Victoria as she listened to her dad’s voice again after so many years. We also got a personal guided tour of the park and were first in line for all the classic rides. It was, without doubt, a day to remember — and the perfect end to such an adventurous tour. Until next time, that is!