What with all those crunchy, crispy, golden leaves, autumn is definitely one of our favourite times of the year. Watching the trees do their multicoloured dance and shed their summer plumage is a yearly ritual we can’t get enough of. Ask most people where they’d love to go for the ultimate autumnal show and they’ll probably say something like “I’d love to spend ‘fall’ in New England” with a faraway look in their eyes.
And sure, New England has some pretty great autumnal scenes. But here’s the good news: you really don’t have to schlep all the way across the pond for unbelievably gorgeous fall foliage, as there’s plenty to be found all across good ol' Europe. Here are five fabulous places for some serious leaf peeping and general autumnal vibes during this pumpkin spice season.
Loire Valley, France
Famed for its bountiful vineyards and epic chateaux, this beautiful region in central France really shows off its best colours once autumn hits. Head to the Beauty and the Beast-style Château de Chambord, which is surrounded by a huge wooded park. Once inside, go up the famous double helix staircase and on to the terrace for panoramic views across an autumnal ocean of trees and the formal gardens. If you fancy a pumpkin fix, the ornamental kitchen garden in Château de Villandry is well worth a visit, too.
Those German bäume really take a turn for the best each autumn, and the lovely city of Munich has some gorgeous examples of flame-coloured vegetation. Luckily, there are plenty of green spaces from which to get a good eyeful. Stroll around the Westpark and stop off in Café Gans am Wasser, a cafe and beer garden by the lake with a prime view of the leaves turning. Wander along the banks of the Isar river or head to the ornate gardens in Nymphenburg Palace Park. Or, for the ultimate photo op, take a day trip to spectacular Neuschwanstein Castle, a white, 19th-century palace on the foothills of the Alps surrounded by breath-taking foliage.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
Less than an hour from the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana lies magical Lake Bled. There are lots of folk tales about how the beautiful lake with its picturesque island came to be – our favourite is that fairies created the island by flooding the land around it, so that the local shepherd’s flock wouldn’t eat the grass they loved to dance on. The remaining lusciously forested island is basically a huge fairy dancefloor. Whether Tinkerbell and co. had anything to do with it, the island certainly is a stunner once the leaves turn. Hop on a pletna (a traditional wooden boat) and sail over to Bled Island to trek up the 99 steps leading to a majestic church. Once you’ve arrived – and caught your breath – marvel at the surrounding autumnal bliss, which is also reflected rather magically in the gin-clear water below.
The process of leaves slowly taking on those glorious autumn colours is so revered in Finland that there’s a word to describe it: ruska. To appreciate the season in full, Finns go on a ruskaretki, which is basically a hike or walk through nature to marvel at autumn’s natural wonders. As well as looking up to admire the trees, be sure to look down, too, as the low-lying shrubs turn the ground into a colourful autumnal expanse. And in case you needed yet-another reason to visit Finland, this is also a great time of year to spot the Northern Lights in some parts of the country – the further north you go, the greater the chances, shockingly enough.
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You don’t even need to leave the UK to get a heady helping of fabulous fronds. Just a couple of hours from Edinburgh, Perthshire has some of the most incredible scenery in the country: misty lochs, snaking rivers, soaring mountains and Munros, and – yes – crisp, fiery leaves everywhere you turn. It’s worth trying to time your Perthshire visit with Pitlochry’s Enchanted Forest spectacular (held annually throughout October), which has an illuminated trail that lets visitors view the area’s wonderful woodlands in a whole new light, literally.