6 Surprising Destinations That Are Magical in Autumn

Festivals in Barbados, hiking in the Swiss Alps, harvest in Tuscany—these off-season spots might not yet be on your radar for a fall trip. Here's why they should be.

The autumn months of late August, September, October, and early November are often considered the sweet spot of travel for many destinations, with still-pleasant weather and fewer tourists. Plus, there’s plenty of festivals all over the world, the foliage is stunning, and harvest season is in full swing. With that in mind, we’ve sussed out six unexpected spots you may have never considered escaping to in the fall, with dozens of reasons why you should start packing your bags. 

Autumn marks la vendemmia, the harvest of the ripe grapes in Tuscany, Italy.

Tuscany, Italy

Why visit in autumn? It’s truly hard to believe that most tourists melt away during the fall months, as this is when the flavors of Tuscany truly shine: It’s harvest time. Between the ripe wine grapes, olives, chestnuts, mushrooms, and more, the region becomes a gourmand’s paradise. This is the time to try your hand at truffle hunting, help pick olives, or get involved in the ritual of la vendemmia, picking and harvesting the grapes.

If you’re in Tuscany mid-to-late September, the Chianti region is where to go to see the harvest unfold, and potentially to join in yourself. Hand-picking happens in the morning, with loads of grapes pulled from the vines and then transported to cellars on large wagons. And there’s plenty of grape-related festivals, fairs, and other events (all with copious amounts of excellent wine) to reward yourself with afterward.

Planning to visit Tuscany a bit later, in November? Head to the Tuscan town of San Miniato for the November “gold rush,” when the elusive Italian white truffle comes into season. Team up with a local truffle hunter and specially trained dogs to head out to seek the prized mushroom, or simply check out the Festival of Truffles, usually held during the last three weekends of November. And no matter what, definitely order risotto ai porcini in any restaurant you set foot in—at this time of year, it’s fresh from the land and simply delectable.

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Colorado’s aspen groves turn portions of the state golden in the fall.

Colorado, United States

Why visit in autumn? There’s truly never a bad season to go to Colorado—it’s one of the U.S.’s best four-season destinations. But there’s plenty that makes visiting this state particularly special in the fall. First, it may not be as famous for fall foliage as the Northeast, but thanks to it’s many aspen groves, Colorado goes a spectacular gold and bronze in autumn. Some of the best places to leaf-peep include the town of Aspen (where it’s low season before the ski bunnies arrive); Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Million Dollar Highway in the southwest. Mountain hiking is also excellent this time of year, as the temperatures hover in the 40-60 degree Fahrenheit range.

This is also the time for the annual Elk Rut, i.e., the mating season for elk, where thousands of males battle to prove their strength and virility. Estes Park is the best place to catch a glimpse of these animals, but during this highly charged time of year, they’re everywhere, with cries that echo hauntingly off the mountains. Seeing and hearing their annual ritual is a moving experience, to say the least.

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Autumn is the rainy season in Barbados, but there’s still an average of eight hours of sunshine per day.

Barbados, Caribbean

Why visit in autumn? Although Barbados is in the midst of its rainy season, here’s what most travelers don’t realize: There are rarely (if ever) full days of rain and there’s still an average of eight hours of sunshine a day. And Barbados’ position near the south of the Caribbean island chain means that there is a very remote chance of it being directly hit by a hurricane. The water is also warmer during this period and the beaches are usually wider, due to tidal patterns.

Once you’re on the island, get ready to celebrate, as autumn is when some of Barbados’ best festivals are scheduled. Consider yourself a foodie? Barbados is already considered the culinary capital of the Caribbean, and the Barbados Food and Rum Festival, held October 18th – 21st, attracts foodies and chefs from all over the world. Planning your vacation a bit later? Reef Bowl, a huge surfing competition and celebration of all things surf culture happens the first weekend of November each year at the Soup Bowl in Bathsheba, St. Joseph.

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Come fall, Palm Springs’ weather is comfortable yet the city isn’t as busy as it gets in the wintertime.

Palm Springs, California, United States

Why visit in autumn? Winter is the peak season for visitors to the California desert city of Palm Springs, but the low-key months leading up to when the crowds arrive are excellent. Autumn is just barely perceptible weather-wise (temperatures usually hit the 80s in the fall months), but the city is still comfortable before the temperature drops further in winter. The biggest reason to head to Palm Springs this fall? The city’s annual Modernism Week Fall Preview, a four-day event on October 18th-21st that focuses on the mid-century modern design and architecture that’s a hallmark of Palm Springs. Tickets just went on sale for more than 50 events, from exclusive home openings and lavish cocktail parties to laid-back bicycle tours. Don’t miss new tours like the Walker Guest House Replica, a full-scale, furnished replica of architect Paul Rudolph’s 1952 tiny glass house. On loan from the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, it’ll be located between the Palm Springs Art Museum and The Rowan Hotel in downtown Palm Springs, and open for tours during Fall Preview.

And in case you’re sticking around, late in the fall season comes the Desert Arts Festival, held on Veteran’s Day weekend, November 23rd to 25th. Another four-day show, this annual gathering features numerous artists presenting their original fine art, including paintings, photography, etchings, sculpture, and more.

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Autumn is the ideal time to hike—rather than ski—the famous Swiss Alps.

Swiss Alps, Switzerland

Why visit in autumn? September is one of the quietest months in the Swiss Alps as far as skiing is concerned. But there’s another key reason to be here, enjoying the area’s serenity: The hiking is frankly spectacular. The hiking season is short but sweet in the Alps (generally May – October), and in September, the trails are open and uncrowded and the days are still long—the sun doesn’t set until around 7:30. Plus, you’ll be the first to see early fall colors start to pop. Try a trek beneath the famous north face of the Eiger or explore the Lauterbrunnen Valley and hike to a stunning glacial lake. Or, hike a portion of the Chemin du Vignoble, or “path of the vineyards,” and stop for a leisurely glass of wine as you stroll.

Sure, some restaurants in resort areas may close for the season, but those that are open are more than welcoming. Plus, you can sometimes find fresh game on the menu, like chamois and ibex, things summer crowds never taste. No matter what, you’ll still find plenty of the amazing cheese and chocolate Switzerland is known for—because some things are simply season-less.

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The Mediterranean is still swimmable for visitors to Provence in autumn.

Provence, France

Why visit in autumn? Once you’ve experienced autumn in the south of France, it’s almost hard to believe that summer is the busiest season. Just as in Tuscany, fall is harvest season, the time when the Provençal vineyards become a hive of activity and plenty of new produce hits the markets. Some autumnal bounty is even honored with its own festival: If you’re in Provence in October, keep an eye out for celebrations like the Fête des Champignons (mushroom festival), the Fête de la Courge (pumpkin festival), and the Fête de la Châtaigne (sweet chestnut festival). At this time of year, it becomes easier to get a table at the best restaurants too, yet still sunny and warm enough for an al fresco lunch or a picnic.

If you’re a beach person, you’re in for an unexpected treat. Few realize this, but the Mediterranean can be a very swimmable temperature through early fall, even into October. And in contrast to the summertime, the beaches are sparsely populated by sunbathers. Hiking trails are also open and uncrowded, and cycling is popular—fewer cars on the roads at this time of year only heighten the experience.

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