From England’s Lake District to the UNESCO heritage-listed Douro Valley in Portugal, these are handpicked fall travel destinations in Europe to fall in love with.
In many ways, autumn is the perfect time for European travel. During the waning days of summer, cooler weather, even if accompanied by cloudiness and rain, is welcomed by natives and travel lovers alike. And fall travel in Europe is particularly special.
In cities, the beginning of autumn marks the start of the cultural season. Similarly the fiery reds and golds represent celebration in the countryside. Early autumn is harvest season for many of Europe’s finest wine regions, and many famous wineries invite visitors to join the harvest traditions. Meanwhile, regional and seasonal delicacies such as mushrooms and truffles arrive in farmers markets. Below are eight incredible locales that have just as much to offer even as summer ebbs away.
Lake District, England
This region of England is famous not just for its lakes, but also for its forests and mountains. Lake District National Park’s visitor center is located at Brockhole House on the shores of Windemere, England’s largest natural lake.
During autumn, the red maples headline the riot of colors in Brockhole’s famous gardens. An early misty autumn morning is the perfect time for a cup of tea at the 400-year-old Britannia Inn in Elterwater, one of the district’s most historic inns.
At this time of year, hikers climbing Skiddaw can admire the purple heather while contemplating verses of Coleridge. September and October are the best times for picking blackberries. Whinlatter Forest is a popular spot to forage for these free and delicious gems. And of course, blackberry crumble and blackberry jam are delicious ways to take advantage of the harvest.
Douro Valley, Portugal
The valley along Douro River runs through northern Portugal until ending at the western coast-side city of Porto. Like Bordeaux, the Douro Valley is a famous source of wine, specifically port. As the grape leaves change color, the valley accumulates yellow and orange stripes while the smell of grapes freshens the air.
Douro Valley grapes are grown in steep terraces chiseled into the sides of the river valley, therefore mechanized harvesting isn’t practical. The grapes are then picked by hand and carried on the backs of workers. Finally, the fruit is processed by stomping. Some of the region’s top wineries offer programs for travel lovers to partake in the harvest. A typical fall day includes grape picking, grape stomping, lunch, and of course, wine tasting. Quinta das Carvalhas is among the largest of these wineries, and it offers beautiful panoramic views of the valley from its vantage atop Carvalhas mountain.
The Dolomites, Italy
An extension of the Alps in northeastern Italy, The Dolomites mountain range is an excellent spot for autumn hiking. By this time, the crowds have thinned significantly from the summer season. In early October, the larch needles turn yellow, starting in the heights and moving down into the valleys.
A walk in Three Peaks Nature Park allows travel lovers to experience the interesting patterns created by the autumn lights and shadows. In the depths of the park, you can hike a trail that circles the western Lake Dobbiaco. Along the way, many rare bird species can be seen making their migratory stops.
Lake Braies is another attractive location for hikers. The “Pearl of the Dolomite Lakes” is famous for the beautiful reflection of Mount Seekofel that can be seen in its green-tinted waters. Autumn also brings the tradition of Torggelen to The Dolomites. Originally associated with the production of wine, Torggelen now combines hiking and enjoyment of local and seasonal chestnuts and dumplings.
Devil’s Bridge, Germany
Rakotzbrucke is a remarkable semicircular bridge in Park Kromlau, located on the east side of Germany. The name is reflective of the near perfect circle it forms in tandem with its reflection. This is one of many bridges in the world nicknamed “Devil’s Bridge.” However, this one is unique, you’ll agree!
The perfect time to visit Rakotzbrucke is autumn. The local trees are at their peak, and the red and gold backdrop accentuates the mystic O traced by the bridge’s dark gray basalt. After fall travel lovers marvel at Devil’s Bridge, they have the option of taking a 10 minute stroll over to Kruger Kromlau farmers’ market. Here, along with the locals, you can check out the fall’s bounty of apples from Saxony and Brandenburg.
Glen Etive, Scotland
Glen Etive, a valley in the Scottish Highlands, is a rugged unspoiled destination for those who love the outdoors. The River Etive is especially popular with kayakers, while the surrounding glen attracts avid hikers and mountain climbers.
The main access route is a single-lane two-way road that has pullouts for the rare encounter between opposite-bound travelers. The road’s entrance is marked by two mountains, Buachaille Etive Mòr and Buachaille Etive, which are known as the Herdsmen of Etive. Continuing further, the road meanders along the River Etive for 20 kilometers.
In autumn, the valley’s shrubs and grasses turn a dramatic rusty gold, right up to the feet of the cloud-crowned Herdsmen. During the fall, constant rainfall yields a memorable sight: small streams flowing down the mountainsides and feeding the river. The region is blustery and dramatic at this time of year, with winds sweeping off its waters and into the valley. After a day of exploring, travelers can stop by the King’s House, which is conveniently situated near the road. Though not tailored royalty as suggested by its name, this rustic inn originally built in the 18th century, is a good spot to warm up with a mug of tea or a bowl of soup.
Bruges, once the capital of the province West Flanders, had its heyday back in the Middle Ages when it served as a major North Sea trading center. Since then, city center seems to have frozen in time. Cobblestone streets, stepped brick gables, and stone bridges still blanket the streets.
During autumn, couples cuddling together accentuate the city’s romantic reputation. Another good way to tour the city is by boat. After all, Bruges is in strong competition with Amsterdam and Stockholm as the “Venice of the North.” Belgium as a whole is famous for its pommes frites and waffles. However, in late autumn, the ubiquitous cafes of Bruges lure guests with the aroma of hot chocolate. After tasting real melted chocolate in hot milk, you won’t ever go back packets of Swiss Miss tossed in water.
Bordeaux, a global center for wine making, is also a major European cultural center. Famous museums, bustling shopping centers, and tasty dining locales are not difficult to come by. Newcomers have much to investigate: the Gothic Cathedrale Saint-Andre, the docks and gardens on Garonne River, and Bordeaux’s iconic square, Place de la Bourse.
Naturally, in a city synonymous with wine, a trip to the ultra-modern wine museum Cite du Vin is a top priority. And of course, you must venture into the surrounding countryside. At the wine chateaux, autumn is grape harvest time. Some wineries are closed to the public during this time, but others openly celebrate their rituals.
The nearby medieval village of Saint-Emilion holds a weekend festival to induct new members into its wine-growing fellowship, the Jurade. Whether in countryside or city, fall brings distinct seasonal fare. Cepes start appearing under trees and then in market stalls. During this time plums are also harvested and then dried to yield the famous local prunes known as pruneaux d’Agen.
Yet another attractive autumn grape harvest takes place in Ligerz, a village resting by the Jura Mountains on Lake Biel. During this time in late September, this otherwise sleepy hamlet comes to life. In the afternoon, fall travel lovers can stop by the Rebbaumuseum (open 1:30 to 5), a manor house dating to the mid-1500s. This historical residence is now dedicated to the history and cultural significance of wine production in the Bielersee region.
Clear fall days in Ligerz offer breathtaking views of the sloping banks. In the foreground lies the activity of harvest, while the narrow spire of the village church emerges amongst the vines. Across a narrow strip of the Bielersee lies the cudgel-shaped St. Peterinsel (St. Peter’s Island).
Further to the south the snow-topped Alps loom. For a more commanding view, take the six-minute Vinifuni funicular railway ride through the vineyards to the village of Preles. During the 384 meter vertical ascent, you transition from a German-speaking to a French-speaking village.