Save big on trips to Italy
“I love off-season Italy because I can enjoy incredible Italian hospitality without competing with the crowds and encountering overworked staff members. Your dollar will go further, too! says famed luxury travel consultant Chad Clark , manager of Phoenix, Arizona Chad Clark Travel Ventures.
He’s not kidding. Airfares to Italy in the winter fall by nearly half, and in many cases hotel rooms fall far more than that. The best luxury properties often drop room rates by 75-85% – or more.
Virtuoso, the global consortium of luxury travel advisors (agents) has a tool called WanderList that allows clients to shape their future travel plans by entering their desired dream vacation and aspirations Bucket List on the platform. When they crunched the numbers this year – as always – Italy was the first place on earth people wanted to go.
In Italy, Venice was the most sought-after place and has been for years, leading to inclusion on just about every list of the world’s top tourist spots. This led to the city banning cruise ships altogether and announcing a new resort tax on day visitors (hotel guests are exempt) from January 2023. A New York Times title of last fall, “Venice overwhelmed by tourists”, and Yahoo News reported that even “before the pandemic, the lagoon city was struggling with unsustainable tourist numbers. In the high season, up to 110,000 tourists visited the city in a single day, far exceeding the resident population, which currently stands at around 50,000.”
The key here is “in high season”.
The savings in Italy during the winter months are staggering, and not just for budget travel. According to monthly statistics tracked by Cheapflights.com, July is the most expensive month to fly from the US to Italy and February is the cheapest. In 2022, the prices were $1,155 and $621, respectively. It’s almost a “two for the price of one” saving. The best luxury hotels here – which include some of the best luxury hotels in the world – are so discounted that you can enjoy a 5 night stay for less than a single night when it’s busy. I’m going to Venice this winter and can stay in a high end luxury hotel for less than I pay to sleep in any chain hotel at the Hartford, CT airport the day before an early morning flight.
Last month, I quickly scanned the rates on Hotels.com for a mid-October weekend in Venice, keeping in mind that while fall is a popular vacation time, it’s not plus the high season, which is summer. Nonetheless, the prices for top hotels were shocking: Hilton Molino Stucky from $884 a night; Metropolis from $1,1919; Ca’ di Dio from $1,372; Cipriani from $1,817; Bauer Palace from $2,038; Gritti Palace from $2,352; Baglioni Hotel Luna from $3,680. These rates are per night for the cheapest room available.
In January, only three months later? The $884 Stucky is $157. The Ca’ di Dio of $1,372 is $330. The $3,680 Baglioni Luna is $550.
You won’t be waterskiing in the lagoon in winter, but you won’t be freezing either, as the weather is usually better than places like New York, and from January to March the daytime average is 45 to 55°. But in addition to the spectacular savings on hotels, the highlight is the absence of crowds – a luxury that money can’t buy.
For the last “normal” year before the pandemic, 2019, Venice’s official tourism statistics recorded a peak of 1,447,038 visitors in August, and almost as many in July. By January, that had dropped by almost two-thirds, to 585,168. A woman I know from the Veneto region told me, “That’s when Italians go to Venice, and there’s nothing quite like standing in an empty Piazza San Marco. In summer, it’s neck and neck. Everything from the best guidebooks to the best dinner reservations are easier to get off season.
“I am happy to confirm that much of Venice, including bars and restaurants, remains open all year round,” said Marni Richards of IC Bellagio, the leading Italian travel experts in the country. IC Bellagio is a company that many US travel agents use to book their clients, from hotels to tour guides to restaurant recommendations and reservations to drivers/transportation, but you can also book directly with them and they have a expertise and deep relationships throughout Italy.
“Travelling in the off-season means exploring more at your own pace and discovering highlights and hidden gems with fewer tourists, and it also allows travelers to have better availability at their favorite properties,” added Richards. “The best way to experience Venice is from the lagoon itself. Navigating through the quietest canals and exploring its hidden gems and the peaceful atmosphere of this region will allow you to experience the true magic of Venice. It is also the ideal time of year to attend one of the many music concerts in one of the palaces of the Canal Grande, at the La Fenice theater or in one of the small churches of the city. Head to one of the many small cicchetteries and have an aperitif like the Venetians do – you can most likely find a table during the winter in one of these cozy places.”
But it’s not just Venice. The same less touristy and less money perks can be enjoyed throughout most of Italy. In Florence, the 5-star Westin Excelsior gets $411 for a weekend in mid-February and more than doubles, $969, in July. I recently stayed at Rome’s newest luxury hotel, the Anantara Palazzo Naiadi, and loved it (more to come). It’s a 5-star property with an amazing spa, lavish rooms, and multiple restaurants, and boasts a great location on Piazza Repubblica. In the summer, rates start at around $800 a night, but in the winter they’re still well under $500, and winter in Rome is pretty mild. But major sights such as the Sistine Chapel, Pantheon, Colosseum and others are much more accessible.
Bargains abound across the country in the off-season, and Clark suggests, “Look to Sicily, Sardinia, Puglia, Piedmont and the Dolomites, for incredible experiences – and food and wine to die for.” Even though the Dolomites are a world-class ski destination with some of the most reliable snow in Europe, the largest interconnected network of pistes and lifts in the world, and host of the 2026 Winter Olympics, they offer always good deals to skiers and snowboarders compared to the best in the USA. resorts (see my travel article on skiing in the Dolomites here at Forbes).
IC Bellagio’s Richards recommends Bologna as a hidden winter gem. “Bologna is known for its rich gastronomic tradition, its avant-garde and its strong university culture. Bologna’s historic city center is a fine collection of brick buildings and charming arcaded streets. Bologna’s real charm lies in simply strolling under the rows of porticoes and watching daily life unfold – and the low season is perfect for that. Bologna offers 25 miles of protected gates – the perfect solution for shopping on a rainy day! Stroll along Via Castiglione to the classic ice cream shop where there’s always a bustling hive of locals sampling some of their tantalizing flavors. Return to Bologna’s “high street” – Via Indipendenza, where you can indulge in some window shopping. Just off Piazza Maggiore is the town’s produce market – a maze of colorful shops selling pasta, meat, ham, fruit, vegetables and more. the area will not be too crowded during the low season months.”
“And in addition to all the city has to offer, it’s the perfect base for exploring the Emilia-Romagna countryside. The “Food Valley”, the fertile plains along the Po Valley, is famous for being the “protected origin” (DOP) of Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma and Aceto Balsamico. Italy’s Motor Valley is a stone’s throw from Bologna – the biggest names in motoring can be found between Bologna and Modena, from the Enzo Ferrari Museum and the Ferruccio Lamborghini Museum to the stunning collection of Maseratis at the Panini and Ducati Museum.
Each region of Italy has distinctive charms, and almost all are easier to visit and less expensive in winter.