7 perfect destinations in Europe to celebrate fall’s arrival
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From Mediterranean beaches to bustling capital cities to wine regions, Europe is one of the best places to visit between September and December. Most of the summer tourists have gone home, there’s off-peak award availability and you can view all the best tourist attractions without getting a sunburn.
If your ideal autumn vacation includes warm sunshine and sand, make sure to read our guide to visiting European beaches in autumn. But if you’d prefer to sip wine, enjoy hearty local cuisine and take in the sights with a cool breeze blowing, here are some of the best spots in Europe to celebrate the arrival of autumn.
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La Rioja, Spain
With close to 600 different wineries, La Rioja is one of the best regions in Spain to visit for ample (and affordable) wine tasting. Pick a base, such as Logroño, the region’s capital, to start. From there, you can reach most of the wineries easily by car. Logroño also celebrates the famous San Mateo harvest festival each year at the end of September. Plan to spend a night or two in Haro, a small village where you can walk, bike or drive to famous wineries such as Ramon Bilbao, Muga, Bilbainas or CVNE. Haro is also home to a wine museum.
For those wanting the ultimate points experience, stay at the Marriott Luxury Collection property, Hotel Marqués de Riscal in Elciego, Spain. The hotel, which features an eye-catching facade designed by Frank Gehry, has the Marqués de Riscal winery onsite, as well as a wine spa that features the beloved liquid (and products from Caudalie) in many of its treatments. Rates at the Category 7 property start at $350 or 50,000 points per night.
Stuttgart is the perfect alternative option for autumn fun to Munich’s Oktoberfest. Both a region and a city, Stuttgart hosts the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival, which runs from August to December. Besides pumpkin viewing, you can participate in all kinds of events, such as storytelling for the kids and culinary tastings for the adults. The region also has a Museum of Viniculture, and nearby vineyards feature the pinot grape variety, among others.
Stuttgart isn’t without an autumn beer celebration, either. The Cannstatter Volksfest runs from the end of September to mid-October. And don’t forget to drive through the region’s famous Black Forest, a fairy tale woodland with a treetop canopy walk, Baumwipfelpfade, from which you can admire the medley of autumn hues as the leaves change color.
One of Italy’s most underrated gems, Umbria is a landlocked Italian region bordering Tuscany. The area is known for wine, cuisine and beautiful forests, which are a changing melange of shades during the autumn months.
Umbria’s wine harvest starts at the beginning of the season, and the olive oil harvest follows in late autumn. Black truffles usually make their appearance in October, followed by white truffles in November. Umbria is also known for its porcini mushrooms. Farms in the region also harvest saffron, chestnuts, and more, meaning you’ll have much to see and taste during the whole season. Top it off with some dolce at the Eurochocolate festival in Perugia (late October), home of the famous Italian chocolate brand Baci.
Loire Valley, France
Love wine and castles? France‘s Loire Valley is your perfect autumn destination. The French region boasts more than 40 castles and over 180,000 acres of vineyards. And there’s nothing more impressive than a French Château rising over the orange and reddish leaves and wine vines.
A TPG favorite is the Domain of Chaumont-sur-Loire, which has expansive grounds that seem to glow especially bright in autumn. “Art season” runs through the beginning of November, with art installations throughout the grounds of the estate, including the gardens. And don’t forget the famous Château de Chenonceau, which towers over the Le Cher River, featuring a number of different gardens and a historic wine cellar.
While the sun still shines throughout autumn in Portugal’s southern Algarve region, the country’s northern city Porto feels more like fall. The city is famous for its port wineries, and this warming, sweet wine is best sipped in the cozy cellars lining the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, especially on a rainy afternoon. Cross the famous Dom Luís I Bridge over the Douro River by tram, car, or on foot in order to reach the wineries. TPG favorites include Sandemans and the Calem Caves.
For some fall foliage, visit the Palácio de Cristal, a palace made from glass that dates back to 1860. The changing colors of the leaves will seem especially beautiful through the glass ceiling and windows.
If you’re considering an autumn trip to Ireland, don’t forget about Northern Ireland, especially if you’re a Halloween buff. The walled city of Derry (also known as Londonderry) hosts a massive Halloween festival each year. From food to music to dance to spooky folklore, all Halloween buffs should experience a Derry Halloween festival at some point.
Walkers searching for fall colors should find a walking festival. These events, where people gather to walk together in beautiful landscapes, are popular all over Northern Ireland. Or, plan your own walks. From apple orchards to castle grounds to forests, there are plenty of spots to soak in the season. Consider the Drum Manor Forest Park, which includes a forest with walking trails, camping areas and a manor house to visit and Glenariff Forest, home to lakes and waterfalls.
This lakeside town of Lugano is one of Switzerland‘s Italian-speaking regions. A special way to enjoy the destination is during the Lugano Autumn Festival, which takes place annually at the beginning of October. The festival presents live music and events, as well as Ticinese cuisine typical of the region, including polenta and minestrone.
With a number of hiking and walking trails in the surrounding mountains, there are plenty of spots to enjoy all the changes in nature that autumn brings. One of these is the Trail of Wonders, a less than four-mile walking loop good for families that takes you past historic ruins, chestnut mills and plenty of autumn colors. Or, explore Lugano’s hills by stopping at a vineyard. Wineries in the area are best known for the Merlot grape.
Autumn is the perfect time to explore many European spots. With mild, cool weather and many gastronomic and seasonal events, it’s the ideal moment for foodies to enjoy many different styles of wine and cuisine. And of course, there are plenty of wooded spots to take in the best of the season — the changing tones of fall foliage.
Featured photo by Philippe Sainte Laudy Photography/Getty Images.
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