Packages to Italy are a dime a dozen it seems, based on the country's eternal popularity. We found one, however, that will give you a unique culinary experience. Foreign Independent Tours (tel. 800/248-3487; www.fittours.com) offers "Tuscany and Umbria for Chocolate and Wine Lovers" starting at $1,699 with air for travel now through spring 2008. The trip is priced based on double occupancy accommodations, with departures from Washington, D.C.-Dulles or New York-JFK and includes car rental, fuel surcharge, breakfast daily, one dinner, seven-nights accommodations, and Internet access throughout. Other gates are possible, such as Los Angeles or San Francisco for an additional $125; Denver, Detroit or Chicago, $95; or Miami, $75. Airport fees and taxes will tack on approximately an additional $182. There are no blackout dates, but if you travel over New Year's, you're required to attend a party, which carries an additional fee yet to be determined.
In addition to the basics, the trip includes a day at a chocolate school in Perugia run by Perugina, makers of Baci. (The city hosts a chocolate festival October 13-21). Additionally, the trip includes a half-day in the wine cellar of a winery in the Montefalco area and another wine tour in Tuscany. The company works with several different wineries, so the selection changes depending on when you travel. You'll be treated to a four-course dinner in Posta del Donini -- your accommodations for three nights in Campo, near Perugia. The resort is comprised of two villas, rooms with frescoes, a 17th century chapel, an outdoor pool, restaurant, and a wine bar. Rooms are air conditioned, and there is an indoor garage available for 12 € per car. In Arezzo, Tuscany, you'll stay for four nights at Badia di Pomaio, which has 18 rooms and is surrounded by a forest with wildlife, mushrooms, blackberries, and woodland creatures. According to FIT's Diane Panasci, manager of marketing and product development, the property, "exudes a strong, strange energy," perhaps a result of its founding as a Catholic retreat in 1645. The rooms have private bathrooms with showers and are equipped with modern comforts such as satellite television, air conditioning, mini-bars, telephones, wireless Internet, and more. Cooking classes can be arranged for small groups, upon request.
Panasci says most of September is already booked, so looking ahead, travel through October 14 is priced from $2,099 and drops to $1,999 October 15-31. Trips in November start from $1,799 and travel December 1-17 is priced from $1,699, and goes up $100 for travel December 18-22. If you want to go during Christmas, it will cost $1,999 per person through December 29. Prices rise and fall accordingly during the New Year's holiday and through the winter and early spring, with the least expensive travel period for 2008, priced from $1,699, available January 7-30.
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