The Real Deal: Round-trip airfare, 14 nights' accommodations, a 15-day unlimited second-class Swiss rail pass, arrival assistance, a group dinner, and guidebooks, from $2,059 per person—plus an estimated $155 fuel surcharge.
When: Oct. 8, 2009; add $130 for Sept. 10, 24.
Gateways: New York City; add $239 for Chicago and $300 for L.A.; additional gateways available.
The fine print: The $2,059 price reflects a $150 per person discount that Untours is offering Budget Travel readers (mention Budget Travel's Web site)—plus, the company will waive the regular fee (between $40 and $70) for apartment upgrades. Does not include a fuel surcharge of about $155 per person. Based on double occupancy; single supplements are available (rates vary by property; it's best to contact the tour operator for a quote). Note that due to limited availability, Sept. 10 departures from L.A. will have an additional $50 per-person fee added to the $2,489 starting rate. U.S. citizens will need a valid passport for travel; a visa is not required. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: No deadline; based on availability.
Contact: Untours, 888/868-6871, untours.com.
Why it's a deal: To evaluate this package price, consider how much it might cost to book the package elements on your own. A recent Kayak search yielded an $826 fare (Continental) between New York City and Zurich in mid-October. The rail pass is valued at $384 per person. For an additional $849, Untours also covers a 14-night apartment stay. The apartment has a full kitchen, which will allow you to save extra money by cooking. And keep in mind that as a Budget Travel reader, you're getting a $150 discount off of the typical Untours package price.
Trip details: The Switzerland-Ticino Vacation Rentals package includes an overnight flight to Zurich on Swiss International Airlines. An Untours representative will meet you at the airport. Together, you'll hop the train (using your included rail pass) to Locarno, about a three-hour trip.
Locarno is in the canton of Ticino, in southern Switzerland, near Italy. You can expect charming cobblestone streets, open-air markets, and great hiking trails. You'll get to meet the apartment owner, and there's a 90-minute orientation session held the day after arrival, during which you'll receive a calendar of events.
When you book, you can choose among Untours' 13 local properties. As of press time, the Residenza Motta #9 was one of the apartments available for the Oct. 8 trip. Just a 15-minute walk from Lake Maggiore, this second-floor apartment has high, arched ceilings and simple furnishings. It's close to the supermarket and a 10-minute walk to the train station, so it'll be easy to set out on day trips.
The included unlimited 15-day rail pass is good for travel within Switzerland; you can plug in departure/arrival cities at the Rail Service Web site to check schedules. If you'd like to see Italy (Como is around an hour away), your pass will get you to the border—and then it's about a $14 ticket for the rest of the ride. The pass covers most domestic boat and bus trips, too, although it won't cover boats on nearby Lake Maggiore.
After you book, Untours will send you a guide to Ticino and a hiking and biking guide. There will be tons of brochures and maps in the apartment upon arrival, and you can also ask your property owner for suggestions.
Locarno's cuisine and architecture reveal Italian influences, and Italian is widely spoken, as are German, French, and English. The wider area includes beautiful valleys for exploration, such as nearby Verzasca Valley and the La Vertazza Bridge, a romantic setting with surrounding rocky hillsides. Important sites within Locarno include Piazza Grande (the main square) and the Castello Visconti, a medieval castle containing Roman artifacts.
Locarno enjoys a fall season with highs in the upper 60s and lows in the 30s and 40s—it will be cooler in the mountainous regions, so don't forget those layers!
For more tips on what to do, visit Switzerland's official tourism site.