Supported independent Italy vacations

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

The villa you would stay in on the Untours Tuscany South program
The villa you might stay in on the Untours - Tuscany South program. (Photo courtesy of Idyll)
The only way to experience the real Italy 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: Supported independent packages.

There are two companies—GAdventures and Untours—that offer to take care of all those details, plus provide a local host, and yet still manage to charge some of the lowest rates in the business—as little as $850 per week.

Welcome to the Platinum Edition of vacation packages.

GAdventures "'Local Living" (

With the "Local Living" program from GAdventures, you get a week in an apartment or agriturismo, transfers, a starter kit, and the services of a local Chief Experience Officer who can help you settle in, offer advice and tips, and orginize day trips and other adventures.

Though there may be other travelers on the same "tour" (staying in a neighboring apartment or room), your trip is entirely your own—though often there is a group meal and perhaps an activity, like a cooking class (or, in the case of the Amalfi Coast, many guided daytrips and hikes and most meals).

Duration: 8 days
Cost: from $1,099
Book: Reserve it


Destinations: Tuscany

Centred in San Gimignano, this Local Living adventure places you in the heart of Tuscany for eight days of exploring. After a chef-prepared lunch, you’re free to explore the town, visit vineyards, discover medieval highlights or embrace your inner artist wandering the Tuscan countryside. You’ll share the accommodation with like-minded travellers, and with a CEO there to point you in the right direction, prepare to fall in love with Italy...

  • Included activities: Orientation walk around town, starter kit of breakfast essentials and local delicacies, towel and bed linens
  • Accommodation: Apartments in a locally owned house (7 nts).
  • Meals: 1 lunch
  • Transport: Local bus, train, walking
  • Group size: Max 8, Avg 6
Duration: 7 days
Cost: from $1,399
Book: Reserve it


Destinations: Chniaciano Terme, Montalcino

Experience life the local way and you’ll experience a Tuscany that most tourists miss. This trip offers plenty of opportunity to get your hands dirty in the kitchen as you’ll learn to prepare and enjoy this picturesque region’s culinary and viticultural delights. Peruse the local markets and delis in search of the finest organic fare, sample wines in the very vineyards that produced them, and work off all that deliciousness with walks across some of the world’s most beautiful scenery...

  • Included activities: Cooking class of local organic produce, wine tasting with local meats and cheeses, local hiking trails, visit to Montalcino and abbey of Sant'Antimo, five home-cooked dinners at our Agriturismo
  • Accommodation: Small, locally owned farmhouse/agriturismo (6 nts)
  • Meals: 6 Breakfasts, 5 Dinners
  • Transport: Local bus, train, walking
  • Group size: Max 12, Avg 8
Duration: 8 days
Cost: from $1,699
Book: Reserve it


Destinations: Amalfi, Furore, Positano, Ravello, Valle delle Ferriere, Pompeii, Naples

Charming hilltop towns, acres of lemon groves and vineyards, mile after mile of stunning cliffs kissed by cobalt-blue waters… its official name is the Amalfi Coast, but this magical land answers to ‘heaven’. On this trip, you’ll live like one of the region’s (incredibly lucky) locals, discovering the small towns, mountain trails and local customs of this uniquely beautiful place. Explore the ruins of Pompeii in the morning, hike the coastline of the Med by afternoon, and tuck into bed at your converted 17th-century monastery homebase at sundown...

  • Included activities: Guided tour of Pompeii, Three days of organized hikes, Visit to Amalfi and Ravello, Scenic boat ride from Positano to Amalfi, 6 home-cooked dinners using local organic produce, pre-dinner cooking experience at the Agriturismo every night, group transfer to Amalfi on Day 8
  • Accommodation: Hotel (1 nt), small, locally owned guesthouse/agriturismo (6 nts)
  • Meals: 7 Breakfasts, 1 Lunch, 6 Dinners
  • Transport: Local bus, minibus, boat, walking
  • Group size: Max 16, Avg 12
Duration: 8 days
Cost: from $1,499
Book: Reserve it


Destinations: Lipari, Aoelian Islands, Catania, Acitrezza

If the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “Sicily” is "The Godfather” we’re here to expand your horizons. Sicily is a very different Italian experience, and we're excited to introduce it to you – everything from UNESCO Heritage sites and stunning cathedrals to the majestic Mt Etna. This trip moves at a good pace but still gives you the perfect mix of fun activities and free time – and incredible cuisine, of course. Find out why Sicily is one of Italy’s true hidden gems...

  • Included activities: Visit to Catania fish market, starter kit of breakfast essentials and local delicacies in Lipari
  • Accommodation: Hotel (2 nts), fully equipped apartments with balconies (5 nts)
  • Meals: 1 dinner
  • Transport: Private van, public bus, hydrofoil, walking
  • Group size: Max 16, Avg 12

Untours (

The originator of the "supported independent" vacation package, 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).

Nice touch: the majority of the profits go to charity.

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 cafes, 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 Italy—Rome, Florence, Venice, Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast, and Umbria. (The company now also offers lodging in more parts of Italy through a more traditional "property-only" service called The Right Vacation Rental that provides, well, just the rental—not the guide and other support system.)

More importantly, the properties and locations themselves seem to have been very carefully chosen. The Tuscany package puts you in a farmhouse in the hills south of Siena—as someone who has written a half-dozen guidebooks to Tuscany, I can assure you that's the prettiest part. In Rome, you can pick from several neighborhoods, including Trastevere.

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 2011.

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).

(For the record, Untours also offers vacations in France, Greece, Spain, Germany (in a castle!), and the Netherlands.)

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