Claudia Da Rin

Autumn glory - Italy at its best

The Bel Paese is the perfect destination for autumn trips

The nights are drawing in, the fresh mountain air becomes nippier and a bittersweet feeling of nostalgia permeates our very own essence: it’s autumn in Italy. Vivid hues, from ochre to auburn, intense yellow and bright orange shades are stark reminders that the cycle of nature renews itself, again and again, never failing to impress. Driving through vineyards, admiring ancient castles in the autumn light, walking along bright mountain paths while contemplating lofty peaks. And then it’s the foliage craze: also known as leaf peeping, with a US connotation, people go in search of the most striking autumn colours, enjoying the lovely scenery.

We wish to reveal the most spectacular places in Italy where autumn is crowned in all its glory. The Bel Paese is the perfect destination for autumn trips, with its abundance of beech, maple and chestnut trees dotting the landscape. Let’s join the marvel!

Tender is the night: autumn in Tuscany

Splendid all year round, Tuscany shares its most intimate soul in the autumn, where auburn colours create the splendid backdrop for foliage walks and trips of discovery. Not only will you find that the romantic atmosphere of treasure cities like Florence, Siena or Pisa grows in this season, but this is also the ideal time to discover lesser known, and equally spectacular corners of Tuscany. Walk along the Garfagnana woods and admire the view from the Verrucole Fortress, or head to the many small hamlets where festivals are held, such as Barga, Isola Santa and Trassillico. Between the provinces of Siena and Grosseto, Monte Amiata is a lava dome that occupies a striking area in the region: sweet vineyards and rolling hills, lovely hamlets and morning mist – a quintessentially Tuscan setting that stuns and marvels.  Head to the Foreste Casentinesi National Park, along the Emilia and Tuscany border, north east of Florence, for spectacular walks amid the most striking colours, from dark green to purple red and bright yellow. Here you will also find the Camaldoli Monastery and the Campigna Forest, with a monumental wood boasting mesmerizing fir and maple trees.

It’s not only amazing views and a contrast of colours elevating from marvellous to sublime. Tuscany is also a paradise for gourmet lovers and autumn brings a vast array of harvest festivals that celebrate all things delicious, from porcini mushrooms – pappardelle ai funghi are a must – to chestnuts – try Castagnaccio or head to the many chestnut festivals in various places, like Piancastagnaio, Castel del Piano and Castiglione d’Orcia, among the many on offer – then it’s a triumph of cured meats and honey. Don’t forget truffles:  – San Miniato, a quaint hilltown in the province of Pisa, holds a marvellous truffle festival with tastings and truffle hunts. Last but not least, wine is clearly the protagonist in autumn, the Chianti region perhaps the most spectacular of them all.  Go along the Chiantigiana – the road that connects Florence to Siena – via colourful vineyards, touching upon quaint villages like Castellina and Greve, Montefioralle and Pazano. Also visit the Chianti Sculpture Park, close to Castelnuovo Berardenga, showcasing contemporary sculpture. Need we to say more? Tuscany is a marvel for you to discover.

Between foliage and a glass of wine – Piedmont in the autumn

The extraordinary region that is regal Piedmont – Turin, its capital, was once the seat of the King and its Royal Palace is still majestically on view – offers more than a fair share of sublime views and locations where leaf peeping is a must. Fancy walking into a living painting? Then visit the Langhe e Roero UNESCO World Heritage areas: one rolling hill after another, you will get lost in the maze of colourful vineyards. Nebbiolo and Moscato grapes with their yellow leaves are counterbalanced by Dolcetto with their bright red hues and Barbera, a dark brown tone; a stroll or a ride along these hills is sublime. As is visiting the many castles – Grinzane Cavour, Barolo, Serralunga for starters) and borghi – Barbaresco, Neive, La Morra – or going along the stunning Strada del Barolo, connecting medieval hamlets, picturesque vineyards and fabulous cellars in a celestial journey of the senses. 80 km from Alba to Dogliani, Cherasco and Rodello for a trip that is just unforgettable.  A novel idea is the Foliage Train, a 52-km stretch that goes on the historic Centovalli-Vigentina train line – opened in 1932 – linking Domodossola to Locarno in Switzerland, to the north of the region. Only operating in October and November, it goes via colourful woods and spectacular landscapes that fill your hearts with wonder. True to the Italian tradition, Piedmont too is a foodie paradise, autumn celebrating one delicacy after the other. Truffles are top of the list – with wine! – Alba hosting the Truffle International Festival from October to December.  Among the various events taking place, pick yours among dinners, cooking shows and courses, truffle hunts for adults and children, markets, conferences, concerts, exhibitions, auctions, guided tours and presentations. Not bad for a “humble” underground produce!

Cheeses are celebrated in the Bra Cheese Festival in late September, but the love for dairy products continues year round, the region offering exquisite varieties including the Castelmagno, Murazzano, Raschera, Robiola di Roccaverano and Toma varieties, all awarded the DOP label (protected origin denomination), but also Bra, Gorgonzola (stemming from Lomnbardy, but mainly worked in the Novara region), Maccagno, Taleggio, Valgrana… need we continue? Finish off with a good dessert, better still a hazelnut-based one (the best hazelnuts allegedly come from Piedmont), like the Nocciolini from Chivasso, Baci di Dama from Tortona and of course the Gianduiotti chocolate from Turin.  Enjoy!

The Golden season: autumn in South Tyrol

In a season of unrivalled contrasts, South Tyrol reveals layer upon layer of magnificence. The jaw-dropping frame of the UNESCO World Heritage Dolomites and their alpine wonders merge with Mediterranean splendour here: the outcome is arresting beauty throughout. Start from Lake Braies (aka Pragser Wildsee) in the Fanes-Sennes- Braies Nature Park where the turquoise, blue and green hues of the water create a fabulous contrast with the auburn and yellow colours of the surrounding woods. Legend has it that the lake is home to a treasure and to the Queen of the Fanes… Val di Funes is another dream destination: drive its entire length and then take up a hike along the many stunning trails, or simply admire the church of Saint Magdalene, a matchless, picture-postcard scenery that will conquer your hearts. Europe’s largest plateau, Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm), is another ace up the sleeve of this impressive region. 

Enjoy the soothing silence of autumn, taking in the seemingly endless width of this superb alpine pasture; the views encompassing Sassolungo, Sassopiatto, Marmolada, Sass de Putia, the Odle group, Gran Cir, the Sella group and others are spellbinding. Enjoy a ride up the cable car (open until November) or take up a trail, like the Chestnut trail – enjoying the sight of lovely colourful woods, the scent of chestnuts, maybe picking some of them, and then tasting them with joy.

Autumn is also Törggelen time in South Tyrol, with many farms and taverns opening their doors to visitors wanting to embark on a journey of the senses, serving South Tyrol specialities like Speck and Schüttelbrot (hard bread), Kaminwurzen (sausages)  Schlutzkrapfen (a type of ravioli) or dumplings. Season with delicious wine of course! Then taste the crunchy, juicy South Tyrol apples: rich in potassium and vitamins, South Tyrol counts more than 7,000 farms that engage in the production of this delicious fruit! Make the most of this season with a guided early morning hike  - enjoying breakfast at a mountain hut – or just follow your instinct and revel in the stupendous legacy that Mother Nature left us all.

Aosta Valley

The smallest region in Italy hides some if the country’s best kept secrets. Encircled by Europe’s highest peaks, from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn, Monte Rosa and Gran Paradiso, you don’t have to reach to sky to enjoy the best autumn has to offer. A short hike to Lago d’Arpy, in the Valdigne, will bring you to the fabulous views of the entire Mont Blanc chain reflecting in the shimmering waters, while the bright orange and yellow hues of the surrounding woods crown the scenery. Travel down to La Thuile and briefly stop in Petosan: here, a vast, undulating plateau offers yet another splendid view of Mont Blanc that does belong to the world of fairy tales.  Superb Val Ferret dons its most scenic robe in autumn, the splendid view of the Italian side of Mont Blanc a difficult treasure to recreate elsewhere. Why not cycle along the many bright vineyards and delight in the scenery? Starting from Europe’s highest vineyards in Morgex – the Prié Blanc – make your way south towards Villeneuve and then Charvensod via the many side roads that touch upon isolated hamlets. The region is also famous for its apple production: here’s a chance to taste a crunchy, distinct flavour that is unique to the area – Gressan hosting an apple festival in the fall. To the south of the region, the Lago di Villa Nature Reserve, close to Challand Saint Victor, is the ideal spot for wildlife lovers, and the Lago di Place Moulin in Valpelline a striking competitor: who will win in the battle for the most majestic autumn shades?  Autumn is also the best season for hikers: the Cammino Balteo is a 350 km-long path that goes around the entire region at low altitude: pick and area and start walking.

Don’t forget the bread festival – Lo Pan Ner – held each autumn, and the Chestnut festival in several locations. Surprises keep coming your way in the Aosta Valley.

Lake Garda - Monte Baldo and its secrets  

Lake Garda offers many interesting local products, from wine to truffles, lemons and exquisite olive oil, and October is the month of a famous festival that celebrates the products of the mountains. Head to Spiazzi, a town on Monte Baldo, to make the most of chestnuts, mushrooms, truffles, aromatic herbs, jams, honey and of course some local wine.  Monte Baldo itself is a mysterious mountain that hides unexpected realms; sitting between Veneto and Trentino, it is part of the Veneto Prealps and hosts a variety of climates, from sub-Mediterranean at the Torri del Benaco shores to a proper alpine environment, when you reach the 2,200-metre high peaks. This means that a profoundly rich variety of plant species and animals find home here, with 50% of alpine flora to be found on Monte Baldo. You can hike (up Monte Altissimo di Nago, Cima del Longhino or along the Via delle Creste to enjoy stunning views, for instance), cycle, go horse riding and even paraglide – as well as taking a cable car up it – around Monte Baldo, offering something for everyone.

Late summer colours, the prelude to autumn glorious auburn, brown and golden orange, are sensational and, given the calmer days, why not enjoy the lake’s splendid gardens? Head to the Giardini Sigurtà in Valeggio sul Mincio, captivating Heller Gardens and the Vittoriale degli Italiani in Gardone Riviera: far from the madding crowds of summer, these most exquisite gems, replete with ornamental, exotic and sensational flowers and plant species, will make your day a very special one.

Of course any visit to the lake would not be complete with a wine tasting. Why not go and visit the Bardolino festival in the namesake town? This is one of the most popular wines on Lake Garda and its fame goes well beyond the Italian borders: 70% of its production is, in fact, exported, leaving lucky foreigners the joy of tasting this red wine delicacy. The festival entails stories around the Bardolino Classico DOC variety, illustrating the six towns that produce it, in a feast accompanied by concerts and conferences

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