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A nice cross between a packaged tour and renting an apartment or villa on your own

The villa you would tsya in on teh Untours Tuscany South program
The villa you might stay in on the Untours Tuscany South program. (Photo courtesy of Idyll)
The only way to really experience a country is to take a week or two, rent a countryside villa or an apartment in a small town, and equip yourself with a rental car or railpass so you can get out there and explore.

Arranging all that can be intimidating, but there is a shortcut, a company that offers to take care of all those details, plus provide a local host, and yet still manages to charge some of the lowest rates in the business.

Normally I wouldn't take a whole page to talk about a single travel outfit, but there's no one else out there doing what Pennsylvania's Idyll does with its "Untours."

Untours (tel. 888-868-6871, are a weird hybrid combining the independence and cultural benefits of life as a native with the resources of a tour starting at less than $1,009 per person per week (that doesn't include airfare, though they can arrange it).

Oh, and did I mention the majority of the profits go to charity?

Welcome to the Platinum Edition of vacation packages.

What's an Untour?

Idyll, the company that invented Untours, describes them as "Independent travel with support."

The "independent" portion means you get your own apartment or rental house along with guidebook-type literature on the area and some means to get around (rental car, railpass, or bus pass in the countryside; public transport pass or tickets in a city).

Your time is your own. You don't travel in a group and there's no guide tugging you around. You can pack in 18-hour days of sightseeing, or simply sit on your stoop and watch life in a small Italian town go by, becoming a regular at your neighborhood's cfes, shops, and restaurants.

The "support" part means one price covers everything, and there's a host to facilitate your stay: meeting you at the airport to accompany you to your new temporary home (occasionally they send you detailed instructions instead and you do it yourself), and providing her phone number in case you have any questions during your stay.

Though you're technically part of a "group" in that a bunch of other Untourists arrived at the same time, you don't stay or travel with them. Everyone gets a private apartment or villa and does what they wish. The only "group" activities are an orientation session when you first arrive, and usually one fun optional outing (like visiting a vineyard or local cheese maker), organized by your host.

Since you're spending one to two weeks in a given lodging, Untours are really intended for a home-base style of touring, not hotel-to-hotel trips that meander farther across the map. That said, you can link together a few different week-long stays (say you do the Tuscany package, but also add a week in Rome).

Untours aren't available everywhere, but they do cover some of the most of the most popular areas of Europe: Italy, France, Greece, Spain, Germany (in a castle!), and the Netherlands.

More importantly, the properties and locations themselves seem to have been very carefully chosen.

How much do Untours cost?

Prices vary by season, how many are traveling together (essentially, splitting the cost of an apartment or villa across more people), and whether you do a one-week or two-week trip. For example, the price chart on the Untours website shows 40 price variations just for the Rome package.

  1 week 2 weeks
Amalfi Coast $1,549 $2,299
Florence $1,109 $1,699
Rome $1,349 $2,089
Tuscany $1,069 $1,519
Umbria $1,009 $1,419
Venice $1,619 $2,109

However, to give you a ballpark, on the right are the lowest prices (for low season travel) you'd pay—per person for two people—on both one- and two-week itineraries in 2012.

These rates include the rental car or public transport pass, the local contact, and a full 7 or 14 nights in your lodging—refreshingly honest in an industry where "one-week" usually means seven days and sneakily counts the overnight flight there, meaning you actually only spend five nights in Italy. (They can also help arrange airfare on request.)

Untours are available late March to October.

And a further note about that whole charity thing. The company has created its own foundation and rolls most of the profits from Untours into a fund that grants low-interest loans to disenfranchised people around the world, build low-income housing, create jobs in poor urban areas, and support Free Trade products. It has won the praise of other socially-conscious business tycoons like Paul Newman and Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry's)


Intrepid Travel

This article was last updated in January 2007. All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2010 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.