Idyll, Ltd., of Media, Pa., is an unusual tour operator. Not only does it call its approach to travel the "Untour," but this is the fifth consecutive year it has lowered prices.
Untours are packages that combine apartment living and elements of do-it-yourself travel with some of the security of group travel. Idyll, preparing to celebrate its 10th anniversary, currently offers programs in Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Great Britain.
Untours have been especially popular with families because of the savings and convenience they offer. Price reductions are made for each child under 16 -- with the biggest of these savings on Swiss packages -- and youngsters can enjoy the freedom of movement and dress offered by a private apartment, as compared with the formality of a hotel.
The Untour was born in 1975 when Harold E. Taussig, now Idyll's president but then a professor of American civilization at Pennsylvania State University, led six people to Meiringen, Switzerland, on his first organized trip. It included a round-trip Swissair ticket from New York, three weeks in a chalet-apartment, and a rail-bus-ship pass (Swiss Holiday Card). The cost was $750 per person.
One of the group, realizing that people were tired of being herded on and off tour buses, told the professor that many tourists wanted some independence -- but not too much. Anxious about their first confrontation with a foreign language and foreign customs, those travelers needed a little help settling in, he added. And he suggested the term "Untour."
Taussig quickly adopted the title and the concept of providing support services for his clients upon arrival. Idyll's tours include accommodations at a number of carefully selected destinations. Airlines used are Swissair, Lufthansa and British Airways. Idyll personnel -- often Taussig himself -- meet participants at the Zurich, Salzburg, Frankfurt or London airports and escort them to their apartments. Each program includes an individual orientation session and provides three or four newsletters, one of which describes daytrips from the apartment. Other services vary according to the package.
For the 1985 Swiss Untour program that will return to the same village of Meiringen, in the lake-mountain region between Luzern and Interlaken, the cost now ranges from $1,083 to $1,187 per person, double (depending upon season), for accommodations and air and ground transportation. Features added without charge include an optional guided trip to a folk festival, and another to watch cheese being made in an Alpine hut; a fondue dinner; and cupboards and refrigerator supplied with staples such as bread, cheese, coffee and milk upon arrival.
"If we factor out the air and rail from our 1985 package," says Taussig, "the apartment itself costs $14.50 per person per day" double, which is the most expensive category. Deductions for children on that trip vary according to age and departure date.
"We stress the feel of being temporary residents of Europe," Taussig explains. Tourist condominiums are avoided. "Almost all of our apartments on the continent are comprised of one floor of a private home, with a German, Austrian or Swiss family living on another floor -- completely private facilities, of course."
As Idyll brochures note, accommodations are located in quiet villages "uncorrupted by tourism" but within reach of major cities. For example, most of the villages used for the Austrian Untour are near Salzburg in the Salzach River Valley; the German apartments are along the Lorelei region of the Rhine, with Koblenz to the north and Bingen and Mainz to the south.
The British Untour is an exception because it offers two options. "Flats" are available both in central and greater London for two weeks; also, either as an addition to the London experience or as a separate package, more moderately priced weeks can be enjoyed in less hectic areas. Those bookings are in recently remodeled farmhouses (some nearly 600 years old) in Pembrokeshire or Breconshire, Wales, and in a 16th-century house in Rye, Sussex.
Though stressing an in-depth look at one country for three weeks, Idyll also has one-week rail-hotel packages to neighboring countries that clients can use for individual travel after they check out of their apartments. Regular Untour departures will begin May 8.
More information: Idyll, Ltd., P.O. Box 405, Media, Pa. 19063 (215-565-5242). Or see your local travel agent.
* PAMPERING FOR A PRICE: Western Frontier, a Salt Lake City tour retailer, doesn't emphasize low cost when discussing a unique package it is offering to discriminating (and affluent) skiers at Park City or Deer Valley. Called "Ski Luxe Services," the program provides butlers, chefs, chauffeurs and ski companions by the hour, day, week or month. Guests can pick one or all of the services.
If you like, the chef will fly with you in a helicopter to prepare a mountaintop repast. The butler, aside from handling the household chores in your condo, serving meals and shopping for groceries, will maintain your ski equipment and later offer you drinks and hors d'oeuvres by the fire.
Typical prices: for the butler, $30 an hour, $175 a day, and $850 a week; the chef gets $40, $200, or $990 for the same periods. The chef's services have been especially popular, according to a spokesman for Western Frontier, which began offering the package last year with little fanfare. Clients have been mostly "top-level U.S. executives and some politicians." The tour operator has already received "25 requests for more information" on another package, the "Ski-Luxe-De Luxe Ski Tour," which includes 10 days of helicopter and cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in Utah and Colorado. Cost: $8,000 per person.
Information: Western Frontier, P.O. Box 6145, Salt Lake City, Utah 84106 (801-484-4421).
* THE BUTLER DOES IT: Prepare for more pampering if you are in California and check into one of the two Presidential Suites at the Sheraton Premiere Hotel in Universal City. Karl Ackermann is there, ready to serve as your private butler. He was head butler for England's Lord and Lady Spencer, parents of Diana, Princess of Wales, before joining the Sheraton's staff last year.
Ackermann says Americans "are so surprised to encounter such coddling in a hotel that their appreciation makes my job especially gratifying." Hotel officials would not reveal who the butler has been coddling recently, but said that TV networks sometimes rent the suites as sets. The price per suite is $2,500 a night.
In Los Angeles, the Sheraton Grande offers similar service to every guest "with a fully stocked butler's pantry and a live butler" on each of 10 floors. The butlers, many former concierges or maitre d's, all completed a special training program at the hotel.
Your butler will greet you at check-in, and then deliver an ice bucket and plush robe to the room, where he assists with unpacking. Each day after the morning wake-up call, he brings you coffee or tea and the newspaper as requested, and provides other services as needed. (Butlers are adept at sewing on buttons.)
Rates at the Sheraton Grande range from $150 a night for a single to $750 for the California Suite, which has two beds and a fireplace.
Some other U.S. hotels also have butlers on their staffs. For example, the United Nations Plaza in New York offers complimentary breakfast, and complimentary cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, served by a butler in the VIP Regency Club lounge to those guests staying in the new tower wing (rates range from $145 for a studio room to $675 for a two-bedroom suite). A charge would be made for additional personal service. Head concierge Rita DiRenzo has three butlers on her staff, and says she's willing to find a butler for any guest requesting one at the Plaza.