The Real Deal: Round-trip airfare, seven nights' accommodations, rental car, and some meals and activities, from $1,399 per person — plus taxes and fees of about $150.
When: Jan. 6-13, 2008; add $100 for Jan. 14-31; $200 for Jan. 2-5, Feb. 1-29; $300 for March 1-15.
Gateways: New York City; add $30 for Boston; $60 for Chicago; $150 for L.A., San Francisco.
The fine print: Hotel taxes and breakfast daily are included, as are many rental car fees (collision damage waiver, third-party liability, road tax, domestic one-way drop-off charge, and a 20 percent VAT). Airline fees and taxes are about an additional $150 per person. Based on double occupancy; single supplement $699. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.
Book by Dec. 31, 2007.
Contact: Foreign Independent Tours, 800/248-3487, fittours.com.
Why it's a deal: In comparison, the lowest round-trip fare we found on Kayak for travel between New York City and Florence in early January is $871 (multiple airlines). For an additional $528 per person (or about $75 per person per night), FIT Tours covers the seven nights' accommodations, rental car, and some meals and activities.
Trip details: The Tuscany Art and Wine package includes round-trip airfare to Florence on Alitalia and seven nights' accommodations. Upon arrival, you'll check in for a four-night stay at the Grand Hotel Cavour, many of whose 105 rooms are decorated in red and white, the colors of Florence. The hotel is located between the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria, and is a great jumping-off point for wandering the compact historic center.
While in Florence, you'll take a guided tour of the Accademia — home to Michelangelo's hunky “David” statue — and the Palazzo degli Uffizi. Once the offices of city magistrates, the Uffizi is now a treasure trove of medieval and Renaissance masterpieces such as Botticelli's “The Birth of Venus”and Caravaggio's “Bacchus.”
Your base for the final three nights of the trip will be the hilltop Villa Il Patriarca near the town of Chiusi, about a 90-minute drive from Florence. The brightly colored, restored villa has 23 rooms and suites — some come with canopy beds — and there are lovely views of the surrounding cypress-filled countryside.
Dinner at the villa's taverna is included, as is a tour and wine tasting at an old cellar in Montepulciano, a town in southern Tuscany that's known for its wines (and the Nobile varietal in particular).
FIT offers optional add-ons such as a walking tour of Florence ($39 per person) and a day trip to Siena and San Gimignano ($69 per person). However, we recommend setting out on your own — especially as you already have an economy-class manual transmission rental car included in the package price. You can upgrade to an automatic transmission for about $250 per person.
Siena, whose oval piazza hosts the Palio horse race each August, and San Gimignano, whose towers make it look like a medieval Manhattan, are indeed great local stops, but you can hardly go wrong in picture-perfect Tuscany. There are other wine destinations like Greve and Montalcino, and beautifully crumbling towns like Cortona, made famous by Frances Mayes in “Under the Tuscan Sun.”
Note that you'll pick up the car and drop it off at the airport. If you pick the car up at noon, you'll need to set the drop-off time for before noon, seven days later, or you'll be charged for another 24-hour segment — in euros (currently $69). Don't say we didn't warn you!
Not ready to say arrivederci? You can extend your stay in Italy by adding extra nights at Il Patriarca (from $139 per person per night) in Chiusi or at Grand Hotel Cavour in Florence (from $119 per person per night).
January in Tuscany is chilly, but not prohibitively so; temperatures are typically in the 40s Fahrenheit. The upside is that January is one of the lowest points of tourist traffic to Italy, which will likely be a relief to anyone who's suffered through the crowds, long lines, and ubiquitous English-speaking tourists of a Tuscan summer.