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Tons of Tuscan Bargains

Updated December 22, 2003 -- Just like Lord of the Rings has been a boon for New Zealand tourism, the chick flick, Under the Tuscan Sun, has equally been a shot in the arm for Tuscany. We raked up a pile of winter getaways and even some for next spring and fall to get you there affordably.

TourCrafters is currently selling a package that includes roundtrip airfare from New York, Boston, Chicago or Miami to Rome or Florence and gives you four nights in Borgo il Melone, a restored medieval village turned into a hotel/apartment/restaurant complex. The combo also includes your morning meals and rental car rental. It's reasonably priced starting from $659 per person, based on double occupancy.

You'll stay in the hotel at the Locanda with its own chapel, garden, two restaurants and a pool. The owners are the Mancini family, nobility from Cortona. It's on the outskirts of Cortona, not far from where the heroine of the film finds her villa. The package is available from January 7 through March 31. The Locanda has only 12 rooms, with minibars, satellite TV, hairdryers, safes and Internet hookups.

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You can extend your stay to seven nights staying in one of the apartments for only a slight bump in price starting from $699 -- that's three full days for only $40 more. Please note that these prices, however, are based on four people traveling together since the apartments are two bedroom, intended for four people.

There's also a four-night package at the Villa de' Michelangioli, a deluxe inn just outside Cortona. Valid from January 8 to March 31, this package costs $789 for roundtrip air to Rome or Florence out of the same US gateways as before and includes breakfast and a rental car for four days. This is an old country mansion restored and made into an inn with bar, restaurant and indoor heated swimming pool.

All prices are per person, double occupancy (except the four-person apartments), and are subject to availability. Airport taxes are not included. Contact Tourcrafters at 800/482-5995, website www.tourcrafters.com.

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An even better price is to be had from Gate 1, which will fly you from New York to Florence and let you stay there for four nights at the three-star Hotel Ambasciatori, from just $499 if you fly out on January 29. Other prices in this "Uffizi Gallery 6-Day Super Saver" run from $539 to $709 for departures from January 1 through March 25. Daily breakfast is also included. They also have a four-night Valentine?s Day special, departing on February 12, 2004, from $539.

You have to pay $72 for a car holding one to three passengers for your transport from the airport to your Florence hotel. There are several half-day and full- day optional excursions (extra charge), in Florence and to nearby Tuscan towns such as San Gimignano, Siena, or to other parts of the Chianti area.

Prices are per person, double occupancy, and do not include airport taxes and fees. Contact Gate 1 at 800/682-3333 or visit them at www.gate1travel.com.

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Go-Today, another of our favorite operators, has a land-only package that is cheapest of all, costing only $269 for a three-night sojourn in Florence, with continental breakfast daily, half-day city sightseeing tour and all hotel taxes and service charges. That puts you into either the Paris or Machiavelli Palace hotels. Purchase by February 23 for travel from January 4 through March 1. A quick search of the leading travel reservations sites (Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz) gave us a not-too-bad roundtrip fare of $304 via Lufthansa, still keeping this within a budget traveler's need.

To see all of Go-Today's Tuscany specials, visit www.gotoday.com/DS_tuscany.asp.

Cosmos has a few departures in spring and fall of 2004 in a higher price category, ranging from $1589 to $1639, for a nine-day (seven-night) package called Leisurely Tuscany and Rome, spending four nights in the former, three in the Eternal City. In addition to transatlantic air from New York, you get the lodging, sightseeing tours in Montecatini, Pisa and Assisi, local guides in Rome and Florence, seven buffet breakfasts, four dinners, and more. Your hotel in Montecatini, a marvelous spa town, is the first-class Minerva Palace, each twin-bedded room with private shower and toilet, air-conditioning, safe, minibus and satellite TV. The price rises to $1850 for departures between June 17 and August 26, 2004, the high season in Italy (and many other places, too).

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For more information, go online to www.globusandcosmos.com.

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