“Best 6 weeks ever” Millie, Spring Course, 2018
“I can honestly say I was amazed. If you have an interest in people, places, art, architecture, history, food or travel, you will find this course fantastic.” Ben, Spring Course, 2016.
This is the Gap Year course which will give you the edge
- broaden your intellectual horizons – study Western civilisation through art, architecture & sculpture
- study art first hand with brilliant, unstuffy tutors
- stay in Madrid (Spring only), Rome, Naples, Siena, Florence, Verona (not Spring) and Venice
- 4 or 6 week courses
- courses leave four times in the year: January, April, August and November
- for those of every academic background who seek a cultivated mind
- open to 18 – 22 year olds
- a day in the life of our student courses
“I was constantly educationally stimulated and surrounded by fascinating people; it was a breath of fresh air.
In case you were wondering, the tutors are amazing. Every single one of them.”
Lane, Spring Gap Year Course, New York University
Who joins our gap year courses?
AHA is a British organisation but we attract students from across the globe who are historically:
- gap year, undergraduate & post degree students
- aged between 18 and 22 from every academic discipline
- a third are arts and architecture students, a third are doing other humanities and a third are scientists (usually doctors)
- students who realise that a cultured, educated mind is a mark of distinction in whatever career they pursue
- students join individually rather than in groups
Everyone should know about the Classical tradition, the Renaissance, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Jackson Pollock, to name but a few. What better way to spend part of a gap year than to appreciate the creativity of others and find inspiration yourself. As you approach university, this is when your educated mind becomes a confident, cultivated mind.
It is bonkers to study art in a lecture room when you can go with AHA to study art on-site in small tutorial groups where everyone can see and join in discussions. With AHA, looking at art and architecture becomes a visceral experience which is powerful and exhilarating.
Only AHA offers a course where the work of art and the student come joint first. The tutor is there to impart knowledge, frame information and foster discussion. The course is carefully constructed but, at the same time, we are interested in everything; drawings, contemporary art, conservation, gardens, music as well as painting, architecture and sculpture. We are very lucky to have:
- amazing, unstuffy tutors who bring art to life
- special access to the treasures of Italy, including St Mark’s, Venice
- six week courses with similar ‘contact time’ to two years university study* which represents astonishing value
- no exams (but we can offer assessment for those aiming for college credit**)
An AHA course is enormous fun but don’t imagine it is a breeze. We work hard, not least because everyone has travelled a long way and there is so much to see and do. Education is expensive and our job is to be sure AHA represents unparalleled value both in terms of the fees but also for life.
Students are 18 and over and as such they travel as independent adults on a course where accommodation, travel, special museum bookings and excellent tuition are dealt with by AHA. We make the very best use of your time:
- University style teaching in tutorials of 9 or fewer students
- AHA studies art in context to include music, philosophy, literature, poetry, politics, theology and aesthetics
- AHA proves cultural and social intelligence to universities and employers alike
- we offer travel and pastoral oversight in one gap year experience
- AHA is based on academic verve, a joy of learning and enthusiasm and we hope you will be proud to have been on a course with us.
* Though comparisons are admittedly imprecise, it is interesting to note that most universities offer 4 hours contact time with a tutor per week in the arts. An AHA course of on site study would represent just shy of 2 years of university study. So, an AHA course is a mighty asset in one’s education.
** On a purely elective basis, students can ask for assessment which could be used to apply for college credit. It comprises of a tutor report, attendance record, creative work (film, drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, poem or play), project (2,000 words), image recognition paper and a multiple choice paper.
Apply now Gallery
Italy is the most wonderful country, which was once made up of City States, each offering different artistic traditions and there is more significant art here that has influenced the course of humanity than anywhere else. Furthermore, Italy, by virtue of ancient Rome and the Church, is the cradle of much of the world’s thinking today, and this, too, is something everyone should know about. Each course is slightly different in that we pay attention to the seasons and geography of Italy. It is a real advantage that our courses voyage between the regions which have distinctive histories, artistic traditions and dialects.
New for 2020, our Spring course begins in Madrid
Spring Gap Year Course – from January to early March (6 weeks)
Madrid (6 nights) – Venice (9 nights) – Florence (8 Nights) – Siena (4 nights) – Naples (4 nights) Rome (8 nights)
Our winter journey starts in one of the more vibrant cities of Europe. Since the sixteenth century Madrid has been a melting pot of culture: with the astonishing painting collection of the Prado – we’ll look at how trailblazing artists like Titian, Velázquez, Hieronymus Bosch and El Greco used colour, light and their imagination!
After six nights of spectacular art, tasty tapas, Spanish Literature and flamenco dancing – we travel to Venice to soak up the unique atmosphere of the city with fewer crowds and an early morning gondola ride.
For the next five weeks – we have Italy to ourselves; the smell of roasting chestnuts wafts around the city squares and the early morning winter light heralds the spring as the course progresses south. Once in Naples, we’ll re-visit the significant historical, political and artistic links between Spain and Italy.
From mask painting in Venice, our gold leaf workshop in Siena and tile painting in Naples – this course focuses on infusing colour back into the colder months with creativity and good conversations. The opportunity to visit Madrid on our Spring course will enrich our studies of European history. Not only will students have a better sense of the geography of Europe, they will also see first-hand how empires and states were formed and what that meant for the visual culture of the continent.
Early Summer Gap Year Course – from April, just after Easter, to early June (6 weeks)
Venice (8 nights) – Castelfranco (2 nights) – Verona (3 nights) – Florence (8 nights) – Titignano (3 nights) – Siena (3 nights) – Rome (9 nights) – Naples (6 nights)
This course is very popular and Italy is at its greenest; the wisteria is flowering. It’s a wonderful time for markets and feast-like picnics. In Venice this course can have a go at learning the traditional and iconic voga veneta – the rowing style used by Venetian gondoliers. We also stay at Titignano, an amazing agriturismo set in a medieval hamlet on the hills near Orvieto. We watch classic Italian cinema, take long walks, read and eat – this is a welcome respite.
The 6 nights in Naples create time for a seasonal day trip to the island of Ischia with its amazing gardens, ecology and swimming.
Late Summer Gap Year Course – from late August to mid September (3 weeks)
Venice (4 nights) – Verona (2 nights) – Florence (5 nights) – Siena (3 nights) – Naples (5 nights) – Ischia (2 nights)
This new course is perfect for those going straight to university or college after summer exams or indeed those already at university; it’s the gap year experience in short. Departing after UK A-level results we return in time for university. Read the full description on the Late Summer Course page.
Autumn Gap Year Course – from late October to early December (6 weeks)
Rome (10 nights), Naples (5 nights), Siena (4 nights), Florence (10 nights), Verona (3 nights), Castelfranco (2 nights), Venice (8 nights)
This is an enchanting time to be in Italy with bright blue winter skies and the run up to Christmas. We stay an extra two days in Florence and an extra night in Siena – allowing us to explore more off the beaten track treasures. Like the Spring course, students have the chance to take part in a traditional Venetian mask-making workshop.
- this course is joined at the beginning by our Semester Course which has already been travelling in England and France over six weeks
Please note the order of cities we visit and number of nights in each can change slightly depending on the year.
Arguably, Italy has more significant art than any place on earth and so we study painting, architecture, sculpture, textiles, gardens, mosaics, drawings and decorative arts over the following periods:
- the Ancient World
- the Renaissance
- the Baroque
- Modern and Contemporary
Within these periods we study
- painting techniques (fresco, oil, tempera, etc.)
- artists: their biographies, significances, influence and patronage
- connoisseurship and collections
- art criticism and propaganda
You will be in some of the most beautiful cities in the world
- Venice – for the Renaissance and modern art
- Castelfranco – for Palladio’s Villas
- Verona – for Roman, the Gothic and the court at Mantua
- Florence – for the Renaissance
- Siena – for the Gothic and politics
- Naples – Ancient Pompeii, The Baroque and modern
- Rome – Ancient, Renaissance, Baroque and modern
Please note duration in the cities above may vary according to the course or time of year.
We break up the course with day visits to:
- Padua – for Giotto
- Pasagno – for Canova
- Villas Emo and Maser – for Palladio
- Mantua – for The Gonzaga Court
- Vicenza – for Palladio
- Pisa – for the Pisano pulpits
- Arezzo – for Piero della Francesca
- Subiaco – for the first monastery
- Orvieto – for the Luca Signorelli & the Lorenzo Maitani
- Pompeii or Herculaneum
The programme is very carefully designed to be both chronological and thematic in order that students can fathom large swathes of history.
We teach the context of art, so we touch on the following where relevant:
- Political theory
We build a solid foundation of the terminology of art and history:
- architectural; vocabulary & descriptive terms
- classical and biblical narrative; myths & stories
- geographical; Italy and Europe
- basic datelines, significant families and Popes
- general themes; politics, propaganda & patronage
AHA also issues our “Shortish Notes” which are an unusual compendium of maps, significant dates, lists and descriptions of mythological gods, emperors, old and new testament figures, saints, popes and leaders. The notes include architectural terms, notes on the guilds and the family trees major families. It is a much sought after document as no such item is to be found in print.
There is also time for the following extracurricular activities:
Drawing; there is always someone to help and encourage craftsmanship
Marbled paper making
Italian classes in manners and comportment (2 sessions at the beginning of the course)
Mask making in Venice (Spring & Autumn courses)
Gondola rowing lessons (Early & Late Summer courses)
Visits to concerts and the Opera and the football
Occasional cooking classes
An introduction to Italian Cinema
English Romantic Poetry
I hope you will agree this course aims to make the most amazing use of your time. Quite simply, we want this to be the greatest experience and a true education.Apply now Gallery
Our tutors are chosen for their intellect, knowledge, energy, manners, reliability and sensibility.Apply now Gallery
What are the tutors like?
Illuminating, fascinating, inspiring!
Judging from thank you letters and word of mouth recommendations, we know that our tutors are a significant selling point for the course. AHA tutors are specialists, entirely approachable and have a passion for all things Italian. They are sympathetic and dedicated to encouraging the best in all students of every academic background.
Much as they wear their academic laurels lightly, they are committed to making comprehensible the artists, writers, and architects who are the real stars of the cultural galaxy.
Having brilliant tutors on the course who pitch in every evenings, travel with the students and stay in the same hotel, not only means they are on hand at all times, but also allows students to imbibe the positive wonder, happiness and satisfaction that we all get from Italy.
Students should drop any ideas they have about teachers versus students, as do all our tutors – this is not a ‘school trip’. Our tutors are dynamic, enthusiastic experts from various academic fields. They roll back the disciplines of formal education and provide an inter-disciplinary approach that includes (to name a few) philosophy, history, theology and mythology.
How do small tuition groups work?
Great teaching ratios are fundamental to on-site study and AHA’s ethos. Teaching to 9 students or fewer, tutors can reach everyone, draw them into discussion and satisfy the interests and capacities of each student.
Each day one or two tutorial groups set out in different directions to follow a theme according to the carefully structured itinerary. Tutors teach according to their specialist interests enabling students to appreciate different approaches to the subject. Usually a tutorial group would visit two or three sites in a morning with a break along the way.
Day by day students become more confident; understanding, enjoying and commenting on the vast visual world around them. Students are supplied with a suggested reading list and shorter notes, which are invaluable for the course and thereafter. We go to many places far from the madding crowd, some of which are public but are barely visited, others are by private appointment.
Before we have met any students, we form the tutorial groups by picking names from a hat. With each new major city these groups are reshuffled by this pre-ordained method. The dynamic of the party is therefore changed throughout the course and we find this a good way for students to get to know each other as we progress through Italy.
- Dates & Fees Apply now
Our view on hotels is that it is better to stay near the middle of the wonderful cities we visit, where there is a sense of history and atmosphere. Rooms are shared with en suite bathrooms in 2’s and 3’s; occasionally we may use quadruple rooms for the shorter stays. Over the years we have built up strong relationships with family run hotels in all the cities we visit.
It’s worth calling the office to ask which hotels we are using on the course you would like to attend, but generally in Rome the hotel is next to the lively Campo dei Fiori; in Florence we stay a stone’s throw from the Duomo and in Venice we stay across the Grand Canal from St Marks.
You will be expected to carry your own luggage, lift it onto trains, buses, upstairs occasionally and so on. This is no idle observation; if you have a bad back, tell us about it. Most people have luggage with wheels, but be sure they are robust and up to going over cobbles. Ruck sacks are good.
In the run up to your course we will send notes about what to bring but please follow the old adage that whatever you pack at first you should then halve it. Furthermore, one of the joys of travelling is to come back with trophies from your travels, whether this be clothes, books or pictures. We have had occasions when students have spent a fortune either posting luggage or spending extra fees with airlines. Both should be unnecessary.
When we move between cities we often take the train or we hire a bus. The train is perhaps more fun, with a real sense of travel. Usually, when leaving a hotel for the station we will walk for 10 minutes or so, but if you would like a taxi, we can order one for you.
When you register, we will inform you of the flights we have chosen for the group for you to book direct with the airline. If you come by another route, we will do our best to meet you, but bear in mind that once in Italy, tutors have lots of responsibilities both in terms of teaching and pastorally and they might not be able to meet you off the plane. In any event, we will give you good instructions on how to find the hotel and how to meet us.
For non UK students, some fly to the UK, which is a major hub, and then join the group to fly to Italy. If they arrive a day early, we can advise on where to stay if needs be.
Photo: Airplane Flying (Malevich, 1915)
Meals, Food & Wine
The food in Italy is one of the great pleasures of an AHA course. At lunchtime, students are free to do as they please – it’s a great time to explore or draw, but often students and tutors will end up enjoying an inexpensive lunch or picnic together. It is a similar situation at supper; students are free to do as they please but, for almost all evenings, tutors will canvas opinion and organise something fun. This might be supper out, or a film or a concert. We feel that convivial suppers for students and tutors make a strong bond on the course and are part of Italian life. It is where conversation flows and we at AHA understand your interests and passions.
Eating, diet and allergies are issues raised on the Registration Form and it is really important that we know.
Those coming on Gap Year Courses are over 18 and therefore allowed to drink alcohol; however, as detailed in the Code of Conduct, we expect that this is done in moderation and drunkenness is not acceptable. Responsible consumption of alcohol is, in our view, a lifelong issue.
Breakfast is included within the fees though it has to be said that Italian hotels often perform some indescribable ritual to their coffee to render it questionable.
Mid way through the morning, it is usual to perk ourselves up with a break for a coffee and rest.
Lunches and suppers are not included in the course price. We recommend that students bring £35 – £38 per day to cover these meals and spending money. Very occasionally, if a student has a problem with cash flow, tutors will lend money but for administrative reasons, we would be grateful if loans could be repaid before the end of the course.
Money is best drawn regularly on ATMs and in modest amounts for fear of inadvertent loss. Pre-loaded travel money cards are a good solution to this issue because, if lost, they limit exposure to fraud.
Mentoring & Care
With tutor ratios of 1:9 or fewer, there are never less than 2 and up to 4 tutors on each course. This promotes excellent care for young adults. AHA tutors are instructed and mentored before they can be considered senior tutors or a lead tutor. Tutors stay in the same hotel, travel together and enjoy meals in the company of students. Tutors are there to help and offer advice. At all times tutors are supported by AHA’s offices in the UK.
A brief look at our tutors’ page reveals that we have tutors of a variety of ages. We feel it is important to have young tutors who are both a mentor and inspiration to young adults as well as more venerable tutors. New tutors to AHA are trained via our manual, through training tutorials and while on courses as a trainee tutor.
We will send you a Code of Conduct which lays out the understanding between students and AHA about reasonable standards of conduct.
Throughout the Gap Year & Semester courses there are one to one tutorials during which the academic progress of students are discussed. These are especially useful to encourage the development of students and form the basis for references in the future if requested.
Museums, Itineraries & Timetables
All museum fees and special entry costs are included and make up approximately 15% of the fees. Bookings for most of our visits are made in advance; this means less time spent queuing and reinforces the need for punctuality throughout the course.
We will send you our list “Books worth reading, films worth watching” none of which is obligatory but which may enhance your experience of the course. In the weeks running up to your course, you will receive a note on what to bring as well as useful notes to accompany the course. AHA will also send you a watercolour set and drawing pad. Practical art is not compulsory on the course but we hope that these will be useful for those who already are happy to draw while being an encouragement to others.
Application & Registration
If you’re ready to apply, just go to How to Apply page to fill in the form to begin the two-part registration process. Once we have your application, we will contact you to discuss the course further. We will want to know more about you, what are your interests and plans. Importantly, it is a chance for you to ask detailed questions of us. All being well, we will send you a link to a registration form and give you details of how to lodge a deposit.
By signing the registration form and returning it with a non-refundable deposit you are bound by the terms and conditions of the course. The terms and conditions require each attendee to have paid in full prior to the course date of departure. Should you need to cancel, there are clear guidelines and terms available. Where possible, and at our sole discretion, we will transfer your place to another course if needs be, having taken account of any pre-payments or unrecoverable costs.
AHA carries public liability insurance to a total value of £5m in case AHA should cause loss or injury to a client or student. It is also essential that students should acquire sufficient insurance to cover the fees in the event that a student needs to cancel their course at a time when all or part of the fees are due. Insurance for health is also mandatory as well as repatriation. On top of this, you should insure your possessions, particularly electronics, having noted separately the make, mark and serial numbers of any valuables. You are obliged to inform AHA of the company providing the insurance cover and the Emergency Help telephone contact number. It is your responsibility to ensure that the insurance cover you purchase is suitable and adequate for your particular needs.
At our discretion, we may offer interest free, monthly payments for a course. Full and final payment must be in our account before the course departs. Please contact the office directly to enquire about this.
Scholarships & Bursaries
See our Scholarship page for details or call us to ask about bursaries.
Risk Assessment, Responsibility
Those joining our Gap Year Courses are over 18 and young adults and can expect to be treated as such. Adult life goes with free will and free will has an element of risk within it. However, parents and students can reasonably expect AHA courses to be safe in the provision of services and tuition. To this end, we write extensive risk assessments for all our courses and we also have a crisis management plan. We follow the standards laid down by the Year Out Group and we review all our courses through questionnaires and tutor feedback. Lastly, we have public liability insurance to a limit of £5,000,000 per any one occurrence upon which we have never had to claim.