Italy on the cheap
In between the Winter Games and the summer hordes, now is the perfect time to go to Italy.
By Donna Rosato, MONEY Magazine staff writer

NEW YORK (MONEY) - Vacationing in Italy this past winter was in high demand thanks to the Olympics in Turin. But now that the games are over and before the summer crowds descend, bargains abound.

Spring is the season when the euro goes farthest in the land of Michelangelo and Maseratis and when tourists have yet to arrive in full force and turn Venice and Florence into line-plagued theme parks

And prices are still fairly reasonable. In July and August, buying a can of Coke can make you think you've just shelled out for a magnum of Barolo.

Go in April, May or early June and you'll find a third fewer visitors, temperatures in the 60s and 70s and lower prices on flights and hotels.

How much can you save? A lot.

"Prices aren't cheap but if you go before the summer peak, you can save 25 percent to 30 percent on air fares," says Anne Banas, executive editor at SmarterTravel.com.

In the spring, the average roundtrip fare to Rome from New York is $800; from the West Coast, it's about $1,000. Go in July or August and you'll easily pay several hundred dollars more.

In addition, there are ways you can bring the cost of a spring trip to Italy down even more, says Banas.

Fly to an alternate airport. You can shave another 20 percent or 30 percent off your airline tickets by flying to Milan instead of the more popular airports in Rome and Florence. Milan is an international airport with direct service from the United States. If you fly to Milan from the East Coast, you can find springtime fares of $500 to $600 roundtrip.

If your final destination is Rome, Florence or further south, just rent a car and drive or take the train and you'll still come out ahead.

Package it. The best bargains are package deals that bundle together airfare, hotel and even rental car in one price. That's often cheaper than buying the pieces individually because travel providers don't mind cutting their prices when they are hidden in a bundled package.

Gate 1 Travel (gate1travel.com) has a six-day trip to Florence including round-trip airfare, four nights at a three-star hotel and daily breakfast for $989 from New York City, Boston or Chicago. That's hundreds less than you'd pay just for airfare in July or August.

Tour packager 1-800-Fly-Europe is offering round-trip fly-drive deals from New York to Milan for $469, including a rental car. Come summertime, the same package starts at $807.

Other good sources for package deals include Go-Today.com and EuropeanDestinations.com.

Visit untouristy spots. While not as crowded as the summer, popular places such as Tuscany and Florence still attract their fair share of tourists in the spring. Go to lesser known places such as Umbria, known as Tuscany's gentler sister, and you'll still find magnificent churches and quaint villages and totally avoid the crowds and highest prices.

Skip the hotel. Renting an apartment or a villa instead of staying at a hotel can significantly cut the cost of your trip, particularly if you're traveling with multiple people. You'll get more space than a hotel room, and often have a small kitchen, which can help cut down on the cost of meals.

To find apartment and villa rentals, visit sites such as CyberRentals.com and VacationHomes.com, which list properties by destination and include photos.

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More travel tips:

Worried that you haven't saved enough for retirement? MONEY Magazine is looking for people between the ages of 50 and 60 who have saved less than $50,000 in their 401(k), IRAs and other retirement accounts and are interested in sharing their story and getting some financial advice about their situation. Please e-mail: dharris@moneymail.com. Top of page

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.