20 of the world’s greatest autumn holidays
Whisper it softly, but there is now a distinct nip in the air. The nights are drawing in; the children are settling into school; the first leaves are falling; and the short-sleeved shirts of summer – that incredible, record-breaking, life-affirming summer – have reluctantly been folded away.
The fact is that in exactly a week’s time, the autumn equinox will be upon us. There is increasing talk of blustery winds in the air. The next thing we know, it will be Christmas.
No matter what misty-eyed poets may say, this change of season is not a cause of unalloyed joy. Who really wants it to get colder and darker? For the traveller, though, the coming weeks have much in their favour.
1. Northeast Kingdom, Vermont
Autumn is New England’s high season, with brilliant red, yellow, purple and orange leaves. Avoid the crowds; head for Vermont’s remote Northeast Kingdom. During the local Fall Foliage Festival, visit seven towns in seven days, each with crafts, home-baked apple pies, church suppers and live music
2. The New Forest, Hampshire
Closer to home, Channel 4’s “A Year in the New Forest” highlighted autumn in this lovely part of the country with ponies and pigs and glowing beech, sweet chestnut, oak and silver birch leaves. Looking for something extra special? Try Exbury Gardens, where Head Gardener Tom Clarke’s favourites include pinky-red dogwood, flaming maples and the national collection of Nyssa, which turns as red as a London bus
3. Hainich National Park, Germany
From the 131-foot tower, the gold and copper beeches stretch for 29 square miles. Hainich National Park in Thuringia, unspoiled by roads, powerlines or homes, is the sort of primeval forest that inspired fairy tales. Follow the 1,750-ft long Canopy Walk through the treetops; on the ground, explore by bike, on horseback or in horse-drawn carriages. Watch for wildcats
4. Lake Louise, Rockies, Canada
Ride the Lake Louise Gondola up to the 6,850-ft viewing platform. Look out at mighty mountains, a glacier, a sapphire lake and the zingy yellow of millions of alpine larches. Spot grizzly bears and big horn sheep below; hear elk bugling. Hike or paddle a canoe under the bluest of skies. In autumn, the Rockies are a must.
5. Kyoto, Japan
The Cherry Blossom Festival is famous; less well-known is the autumnal momijigari or koyo, viewing the red and gold leaves. During the surprisingly long season, lasting through November, temples are accented by bright maples. Munch on roasted chestnuts; try momiji tempura, sugar-dipped maple leaves, fried in tempura batter.
6. Amsterdam country
With the new direct link from Eurostar you can now get from London to Amsterdam in about four hours by train (unfortunately, you still have to change at Brussels on the way back). It’s a great excuse to re-discover the city, even if you have visited before.
7. Madrid country
Arguably Europe’s most neglected capital city and far less crowded and much better value than its great rival, Barcelona. The city sleeps in August when the heat is oppressive, but it enjoys a gloriously warm sunny autumn.
8. Vienna country
Another neglected cultural capital, this is where I am headed for my city break this month. It’s a great time to visit the Austrian capital which is celebrating the centenaries of the deaths of two of its greatest artists – Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele – and its finest architect, Otto Wagner.
9. Paris, France
September is always expensive in Paris – hotels are heavily booked for trade and fashion shows. Go in October instead when the crowds diminish and the cultural season kicks off. If you have stamina, La Nuit Blanche (this year on October 6) is an all-night happening with installations, video projections and art events going on all around the capital
10. Milan, Italy
It’s famous for its shopping and fashion of course, but, like Paris, once the September shows are over, Milan’s cultural life is rekindled. Its great art museum, the Pinacoteca di Brera (pinacotecabrera.org/en) has just completed a three-year renovation programme. It has a fabulous, little-known collection including seminal works by Piero della Francesca, Raphael and Caravaggio.
11. Cavtat, Croatia
Croatia’s southernmost seaside resort, pretty Cavat (12 miles from Dubrovnik) perches on a rocky peninsular, with a pebble bay to each side. Snooze below pine trees, swim off the rocks and drink sunset cocktails at Little Star beach bar (beachbarlittlestar.com) or catch a water-taxi to Dubrovnik for sightseeing and a return stop at Mlini beach.
12. Rhodes, Greece
Sun, sand and warm sea (average 26°C) make Rhodes a perfect autumn choice. The crowds have dispersed, leaving hideaways like whitewashed hillside Lindos, overlooking Pallas and St Paul’s beaches, romantic and serene, and the wide golden sands of Tsambika, semi-deserted and balmy, while on Rhodes’ southern tip, Prasonisi winds are still optimum for surfing and kite-boarding.
13. Nice, France
Autumnal sunshine combines with modern art in the glamorous Cote d’Azur. Base yourself in Nice, to bathe at beaches ranging from the stunning 3-mile-long sandy Plage de Pampelonne just outside St Tropez to the chi-chi Paloma private pebble beach at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
14. Positano, Amalfi Coast
In dreamy Positano, pastel facades draped in bougainvillea hug a cliffside, with steps leading down to a shingle beach – madly overcrowded in summer, but mellow come September. Along the coast, you have a long sandy beach at Maiori, and in the fishing village of Cetara, a pretty pebble cove rimmed by seafood eateries.
15. Sveti Stefan, Montenegro
Although much of the Budva coast has been rashly overdeveloped, Aman Sveti Stefan offers three divine pink-sand beaches, plus magnificent accommodation in a fortified 15th-century fishing village, on a tiny islet, and in 1930’s Villa Miločer, in gardens with an Aman Spa. Indulge in beauty treatments and swim in the indoor heated sea-view pool, backed by pinewoods.
16. Bovey Castle, Dartmoor
The onset of autumn with its crisp mornings and brilliant colours brings a unique atmosphere to the magical world of Dartmoor with its pre-historic landscape of stone circles, tors and rolling moorland. Bovey Castle, set in its own 275-acre estate makes the perfect base for a walking break. Don’t miss the Ring of Bells, a 13th Century thatched inn in nearby North Bovey, for a post-walk pint.
17. Windermere, Lake District
The summer crowds have dispersed and the Lake District has at last returned to near Wainwright walking perfection. The Samling Country House Hotel is perched on a hillside 350ft above Lake Windermere surrounded by nearly 70 acres of gardens fields and woodland. Wansfell is – quite literally – on the doorstep and Loughrigg Fell above Grasmere with views over mountains, six lakes, and one tarn is just a short drive away.
18. Central Highlands, Scotland
A guided walk in the Central Highlands that takes in Glen Affric and the Great Glen among others. Highlights include majestic Plodda Falls, the remote eastern shores of Loch Oich, and the ancient woodlands of Glen Affric itself. Accommodation is in an eco-friendly boutique hotel in the village of Fort Augustus at the southern end of Loch Ness.
19. Vikos Gorge, Corfu
The little known Vikos Gorge, one of the deepest canyons in the world, is part of the remote Zagoria region of north-west Greece, one of the most beautiful mountain regions in Europe. After two nights on the island of Corfu, you will spend the next five days walking between Zagoria’s traditional stone villages (Kapesovo, Papingo), crossing some of its trademark arched stone bridges, and exploring the Vikos Gorge.
20. Chania, Crete
Justly famed for its spring flowers, Crete’s autumnal offerings are also world-class with early autumn rains bringing a dazzling variety of crocus, cyclamen, colchicum and narcissi back to life. Based in the former Venetian port of Chania, you will explore many of the island’s famous gorges including Samaria, Imbros and Sirikari as well as plateaus and coastal plains.