Packages for the Independent Traveler
One good source of package deals is the airlines themselves. Most major airlines offer air/land packages, including American Airlines Vacations (tel. 800/321-2121; www.aavacations.com), Delta Vacations (tel. 800/654-6559; www.deltavacations.com), Continental Airlines Vacations (tel. 800/301-3800; www.covacations.com), and United Vacations (tel. 888/854-3899; www.unitedvacations.com). Several big online travel agencies -- Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, and Lastminute.com -- also do a brisk business in packages.
Travel packages are also listed in the travel section of your local Sunday newspaper. Or check ads in national travel magazines such as Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel Magazine, Travel + Leisure, National Geographic Traveler, and Condé Nast Traveler.
Escorted General-Interest Tours
Escorted tours are structured group tours, with a group leader. The price usually includes everything from airfare to hotels, meals, tours, admission costs, and local transportation. Despite the fact that escorted tours require big deposits and predetermine hotels, restaurants, and itineraries, many people like the structure, and they're particularly convenient for people with limited mobility.
The biggest operator of escorted tours is Perillo Tours (tel. 800/431-1515; www.perillotours.com), family operated for three generations. Perillo's tours cost much less than if you arranged the same trip yourself. Accommodations are in first-class hotels, and guides tend to be well-qualified and well-informed.
Trafalgar Tours (tel. 866/544-4434; www.trafalgartours.com) is one of Europe's largest tour operators, offering affordable guided tours with lodgings in unpretentious hotels. Check with your travel agent for more information on these tours (Trafalgar takes calls only from agents).
One of Trafalgar's leading competitors is Globus+Cosmos Tours (tel. 866/755-8581; www.globusandcosmos.com). Globus has first-class escorted coach tours of various regions lasting from 8 to 16 days (for a more in-depth review of a Globus tour in Italy, check our website, Frommers.com). Cosmos, a budget branch of Globus, sells escorted tours of about the same length. Tours must be booked through a travel agent, but you can call the 800 number for brochures. Another competitor is Insight Vacations (tel. 800/582-8380; www.insightvacations.com), which books superior first-class, fully escorted motorcoach tours lasting from 1 week to a 36-day grand tour.
Finally, Abercrombie & Kent (tel. 800/554-7016 in the U.S.; www.abercrombiekent.com) offers a variety of luxurious premium packages. Your overnight stays will be in meticulously restored castles and exquisite Italian villas, most of which are government-rated four- and five-star accommodations. Several trips are offered, including tours of the Lake Garda region and the southern territory of Calabria.
The oldest travel agency in Britain, Cox & Kings (tel. 020/7873-5000; www.coxandkings.co.uk), specializes in organized tours through the country's gardens and sites of historical or aesthetic interest, opera tours, pilgrimage-style visits to sites of religious interest, and food- and wine-tasting tours. The staff are noted for their focus on tours of ecological and environmental interest.
Tennis fans set their calendars by the events that transpire every year at the Italian Open, which is held in mid-May at the Foro Italica, near Mussolini's Olympic site. A California-based company, Advantage Tennis Tours, 33 White Sail Dr., Ste. 100, Laguna Niguel, CA 92677 (tel. 800/341-8687 or 949/661-7331; fax 949/489-2837; www.advantagetennistours.com), conducts tours to the Open that include 6 nights' accommodations in a deluxe Roman hotel, Center Court seats at three sessions of the tournament, city tours of ancient Rome, a farewell dinner, the organizational and communications skill of a tour hostess, and the opportunity to play tennis.
For travelers who want to experience and explore the homeland of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, VBT Bicycling Vacations (tel. 800/245-3868; www.vbt.com) offers 8-day vacations through Tuscany, Sicily, and Puglia. Accommodations are included in the overall package deal.
The best mountain adventure tours are offered by Mountain Travel-Sobek, 1266 66 St., Emeryville, CA 94608 (tel. 888/687-6235 or 510/594-6000; www.mtsobek.com). The best hiking tours of Italy are a feature of Above the Clouds Trekking, P.O. Box 388, Hinesburg, VT 05461 (tel. 802/482-4848; fax 802/482-5011; www.aboveclouds.com).