AIRFARES TO EUROPE: THIS YEAR'S BARGAIN
The horse chestnuts will not be blooming along the Paris boulevards until May , the cloth chairs one rents for a few pence in London's Green Park are stored away for the winter, and in Rome the Piazza Navona is now only an echo of its clamorous summer self. But hark: This may be the time to go.
Indeed the air fares and tour packages in this so-called low season are so appealing - at least in relation to midsummer prices - one is sorely tempted to take vacation time right now, and never mind the elements. Most of the best air values are in effect until the end of March, and rise only slightly in April. And for a change this year, the transatlantic carriers will actually lower their high-season fares from a year ago, making the summer of '83 a better bargain than it's been in some time.
London, already stirring travelers' interest with the recent dipping of the pound near $1.50, is only $225 away, with Pan American. Of course that's only one way. One has to read the ads with especial care these days. ''Pan Am's London. An Incredible $225,'' shouted the big black type in the Sunday travel section, while underneath in faint lettering it added: ''Each way with round-trip purchase.''
Well, even $450 is within reason. And British Airways can get you there and back for a dollar less. Of course, with both airlines you must adhere to certain small-print restrictions such as: leave on a weekday, stay over one weekend and a maximum of 14 days, and make no cancellations or other schedule changes. Both carriers have some tantalizing ground packages to go with the lowered air fares. If, for example, you're willing to try the Elysee or Julius Caesar hotels - granted, no Savoys - you can live for as little as $20 a night for two with a Pan Am Affordable London package.
With British Airways, a six-night tour ranges from $129 a person at the Tavistock to $461 at the Churchill, and includes a week-long pass on London Transport buses and subways, breakfasts, and a bus to and from Heathrow Airport. For a little more ($190 to $522 at the same hotels) a British Airways Showtime Tour will buy three theater tickets and all the other extras. Not that London theater even approaches Broadway in ticket prices. Five to seven pounds ($7.50 to $10.50 at recent rates) will buy a good seat in any West End theater. And there's nothing like seeing ''Cats,'' ''Steaming,'' or ''84 Charing Cross Road'' on the home boards.
Another piece of good news for the restless Anglophile is that British Rail has frozen the BritRail pass at the 1982 level until March 1984. Thus you can travel all over England, Scotland, and Wales for $107 economy and $147 first-class for a week, or $162 and $219 for 14 days.
All of these developments have caused clogged phone lines and mobs of pamphlet pluckers at the British Tourist Authority offices in the United States. ''It's getting wild here,'' said a BTA source in New York. ''It's a great boon for us, this lowering of the pound - though, of course, at another level it's rather sad.''
She said a friend had just returned from London, licking his chops over the reasonableness of a carvery dinner - those all-you-can-eat feasts of roast beef, lamb, and roast pork served in many hotel restaurants. The bill was (STR)9 - or about $14.
Now that the solstice is past and the Scandinavians can wake up to the sun again, one can begin to think of travel to Oslo, Copenhagen, and Stockholm, all the more so because the notoriously high fares to these cities have been handsomely reduced. Until March 31, Scandinavian Airlines has a $395 round-trip offering from New York to all three capitals. For an additional $100 per person, a Copenhagen ground package for six nights provides hotel room (such as the comfortable Imperial, near the central train station), substantial Nordic breakfasts, and a city tour.
True, Tivoli is closed for the winter, but the Stroget shopping street is alive and hustling, and the cozy little bakeries that seem to come two to a block are more inviting than ever. The Royal Ballet is in residence, not off touring some distant land as it is in the summer, and the most expensive ticket costs just $9.
Portugal, always a budget traveler's delight - and especially so now that the escudo-dollar ratio is so favorable to the tourist - is only $499 from New York round trip with a TWA 1-to-14-day midweek fare. TWA also has inviting fares and packages to Greece. Example: $599 round trip from New York to Athens until March 31, and a two-week $589 tour that includes four days on a Greek-island cruise, hotels, and dinners.
Before we know it, restaurant owners across Europe will be dusting off their summer furniture and reopening their sidewalk cafes, and the high season will be back. This normally means skyrocketing air fares, but in 1983 the transatlantic carriers have agreed to lower prices to fight off competition from the charter outfits. ''They've been eating away at us,'' said a TWA official.
Thus, for example, after April 1, TWA's so-called APEX (for advance-purchase) Boston-London fare will cost $529, compared with $662 a year ago. It will be $20 higher from New York, and is good for 7 to 180 days. Paris, Rome, and other capitals will also be a cheaper ride later in 1983 on a variety of airlines. But why wait till then?