The art gallery tour that costs $42,000


(CNN) — Michelangelo’s magnificent “David” epitomizes the creativity that flowed in Florence, Italy, during the Renaissance, and nothing quite compares to seeing his much-celebrated sculpture up close without the crowds.

A two-hour private tour of Florence’s Accademia museum after it has closed its doors to the public is a chance to do just that.

Along the way, guests also get to spend time with other Florentine masterpieces from the 13th to the 16th centuries — minus the crowds of clamoring tourists.

With 1.6 million visitors last year, the museum (established by Grand Duke Peter Leopold in 1784 in a former hospital and convent) is now the second-most popular attraction in Florence, so you can imagine what a typical visit entails.

The price of privacy

A dinner in a secret speakeasy follows the private visit, but such exclusivity doesn’t come cheap: The Lake Como-based IC Bellagio, a specialist in high-end Italian vacations, charges €37,000 (about $42,000) per couple for the privilege and only offers it to one party at a time, for a maximum of four people per visit. Alas, it’s not half the price for singles.

The company’s founder, Andrea Grisdale, says that the money is worth it for art lovers with free-flowing budgets.

“It’s surreal being alone inside such a famous museum,” she says. “There are no other tourists to get around and no guards telling you to move forward. You can hear the silence and see the floor.”

Grisdale started offering private visits to the Accademia five years ago when a longtime client from the United States told her that he wanted to surprise his art-loving wife with something extraordinary for her 50th birthday, preferably in Florence, a city that they’d never been to.

“Seeing the ‘David’ is our company’s top request for anyone who comes to Florence so I came up with this idea of seeing him without anybody else there except a guide,” she says.

Grisdale works with four guides, or art curators, all of whom are based in Florence.

An evening to remember

Guests meet their guide at their hotel on the evening of the visit. They arrive at the Accademia at 7 p.m. (via Mercedes Benz), just after the museum closes to the public.

Once inside, the guide tells the guests a bit about the museum and then shows the museum’s key pieces, including a plaster of “The Rape of Sabine” by Giambologna and “The Tree of Life,” a large gold-hued 14th century painting by Pacino di Buonaguida.

But Grisdale says that most people spend the bulk of their time with Michelangelo’s sculptures.

Guests are whisked to the museum after it has closed its doors to the public.

Guests are whisked to the museum after it has closed its doors to the public.

Galleria dell’Accademia

Up there in popularity is a series of four unfinished marble ones called “The Prisoners,” which depict men trying to free themselves from the physical bonds and colossal weight of the marble.

Scholars have named them “The Awakening Slave,” “The Young Slave,” “The Bearded Slave” and “The Atlas (or Bound)” and speculate that Michelangelo purposely left them incomplete.

“When I was on the tour, my guide told me that some of Michelangelo’s most beautiful works were unfinished,” says Grisdale, who experiences her company’s exclusive offerings to make sure she can vouch for what she’s selling. “He wanted to reveal something powerful with marble but believed that it didn’t always have to be a completed work,” Grisdale says, revealing some of the art education visitors will receive.

Of course, guests also get to see the “David,” which 10,000 people clamor to see daily.

Michelangelo's "David" is the number one attraction at the Accademia.

Michelangelo’s “David” is the number one attraction at the Accademia.

Galleria dell’Accademia

Following the tour, the intimate group is whisked to the outskirts of town and deposited at a silversmith’s workshop, Pampaloni, for dinner.

Dinner and a museum

The canteen where the silversmiths have lunch transforms into an upscale restaurant in the evenings, reserved for especially small groups on the night of the private museum tours. “We take a humble space and make it elegant with our silver,” says owner Gianfranco Pampaloni.

The tables in the room are draped with pristine white tablecloths, laden with silver candelabras and set with fine glassware and opulent plates and cutlery. Guests will enjoy a six-course meal emphasizing Sicilian seafood follows. Dishes change seasonally but could include squid ink pasta with clams, pasta with sea urchins, Eolian style swordfish with capers and tomatoes and salt crusted baked sea bass.

Each dish is paired with a top Italian wine such as Ornellaia, a red wine producer from Tuscany that serious wine collectors lust after.

Despite the hefty cost for this night out, Grisdale says that she books it between five and 10 times a year. “Most of the people come from the US, but they’re a diverse bunch including young couples, friends and university professors,” she says. “They all tell me that the visit was incomparable to anything else they’ve ever done.”

Shivani Vora is a New York City-based writer who travels as often as she can, whether that means going on a walking safari in Tanzania, a mother-daughter trip with her ten year-old in Istanbul or surfing in northern Portugal.


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