Tuscan Way cooks up retailer deals

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NEW YORK -- Italy operator Tuscan Way is paying retailers 20% to 25% commission on villa stays and culinary tours in Tuscany.

Bookings for travel through Oct. 31 will net agents the 20% rate; reservations for Nov. 1 to March 31 pay 25%.

Agents make up only about 20% of Tuscan Way's sales, but the firm would like to work with more of them, according to vice president of sales Ian Darrah.

"We are looking ideally to have agents with whom we can work consistently," said Darrah. "We're always friendly toward agents, offering marketing materials and personal assistance."

Coconut Grove, Fla.-based Tuscan Way offers private villa rentals and cooking courses at four properties in Tuscany: the countryside Villa Gaia; Villa Castelletti, an upscale estate nine miles west of Florence; Casa Caponetti, a rustic farmhouse in Tuscania; and the flagship Casa Innocenti, an 11th-century villa in Arcidosso owned and operated by chef Carlo Innocenti, father of Tuscan Way owner Isabel Innocenti.

Although it sounds like an expensive proposition, an Italian villa vacation actually is within reach of the average U.S. consumer, Darrah said.

Tuscan Way offers villa stays and culinary vacations at four properties, including Villa Innocenti in Arcidosso, above. "Many agents think that booking a villa vacation in Tuscany is only for the rich and famous," Darrah said. "We aim to show them that is just not so."

For example, a weeklong rental of the Casa Innocenti, which can accommodate nine guests in five bedrooms, costs $5,000; that works out to about $96 per person, per night.

The villa kitchen comes stocked with food and wine; Tuscan Way also can arrange gourmet meals prepared by Carlo Innocenti himself -- at about $35 a head -- along with other customized add-ons.

A villa stay also offers added advantages, such as help and advice from live-in owners; entire houses for the same price local hotels charge for rooms; and the chance to "go native" and live in true Tuscan style.

Similarly, Tuscan Way's packaged culinary vacations -- which range in price from $1,250 to $1,990 for three nights to $2,190 to $3,390 for six -- explore Tuscan culture through cooking, dining and touring for groups of six to 10 clients.

"This is for people who absolutely don't want to be herded along in a huge group," said Darrah. "It's a much richer, deeper experience that you don't get at a hotel or the traditional motorcoach type of tour."

The firm's all-inclusive, land-only prices include transfers to and from Rome or Florence, accommodations, meals and wine, daytime excursions and daily evening cooking classes.

Typical day excursions take in Siena, Montalcino and Castello Banfi. Pop singer Sting joined a tour from Villa Castelletti to Florence for lessons at the Cucina Garga culinary school.

For more information or reservations, call Tuscan Way at (800) 766-2390 or visit www.tuscanway.com.

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