8 reasons to visit Italy this fall

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If we’re lucky, one of the great joys of getting older is having more freedom to travel when we want. The kids may have moved on, and part-time work or even retirement hopefully leaves more time to explore further. Even better, the need to take vacations during the summer months has gone, leaving us free to experience different destinations when they are at their best.

While Italy is wonderful any time of the year, it is perhaps at its most beautiful in the fall, when the hillsides are awash in vibrant reds and golds and menus abound with dishes filled with truffles, freshly picked mushrooms and chestnuts. In September, the summer crowds have thinned out, reducing the rush to classic tourist spots and bringing welcome tranquility to the beaches.

A bonus for those looking for a fairly active vacation is that the fierce heat of the summer months has dissipated, leaving a generally warm and sunny climate. Temperatures start dropping in October to around 18-20 degrees Fahrenheit depending on how far south you are. On the upside, sea temperatures can be warmer than May, after months of summer sunshine.

Rather refreshingly, instead of autumn being a time of rest, everything seems to come alive in many parts of Italy, with attention turning to the harvest of grapes and olives after a languid August.

Sound tempting? These are just a few of the reasons I love being in Italy in the fall.

Autumn foliage in Tuscany

Photo credit: hedonistichiking.com

1. Catch the fiery colors of fall

Praising the beauty of central Italy is never difficult, but there is something very special about fall. One of the most spectacular places to catch the fall colors is in the Casentino National Park, between Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, where the multiple species of trees (including beech, maple, cherry, ash and chestnut) produce a magnificent range of flamboyant colors.

If a city break is more your style, you can still enjoy the seasonal beauty. Stay in Florence and intersperse visits to the many artistic and architectural treasures with leisurely strolls through the Boboli Gardens or the less formal Le Cascine, a sprawling 118-hectare expanse along the Arno that’s carpeted in crisp leaves at the fall.

For more magical views elsewhere, delve into the Langhe region of Piedmont in northwest Italy. Here, the typical morning mists give way to a rolling landscape dotted with hilltop villages and castles surrounded by red and golden hazel trees against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks.

Pro Tip: Plan your visit between mid-October and mid-November to see fall colors at their best.

2. Celebrate local food

Many of us place food among our top five motivations for visiting Italy, and there are even more reasons to do so in the fall. With traditional Italian cuisine based on the use of simple, locally grown ingredients, dishes naturally become heartier, with a particular emphasis on mushrooms, chestnuts and squash. Chestnut stalls are popping up on street corners, and in northern Italy towns are holding castagnata (roasted chestnuts) festivals in October and November.

In Tuscany, savor castagnaccio cakes made with dense chestnut flour and vegetable soups filled with nutrient-rich black cavolo nero. Swap the traditional Italian favorite of cantaloupe melon with prosciutto, platters of figs with salami or apples with pecorino cheese.

Unsurprisingly for a region that gave birth to the “Slow Food” movement, Piedmont also tops the charts when it comes to finding delicious food. Autumn is the best time to fully appreciate the riches of the region during a gastronomic tour. Feast on dishes made with freshly harvested hazelnuts, taste some of the best local wines and learn how to prepare local specialties with freshly picked truffles.

Pro Tip: End your gastronomic journey in Piedmont with a visit to the small town of Cherasco, famous for its Ferries of Cherasco (Cherasco kisses). The chocolates, made from 65% cocoa and roasted Langhe hazelnuts, were first created in the Pasticceria Barbero in 1881.

Truffle hunting in Piedmont

Truffle hunting in Piedmont

Photo credit: hedonistichiking.com

3. Go truffle hunting

For those with a sweet tooth, truffles and autumn go hand in hand in northern Italy and particularly in the fertile Piedmont region. Most truffle hunting takes place within a radius of around 45 minutes from the town of Alba, in the hills around the towns of Asti and Monferrato. An excursion will typically include a trek through the woods with a local truffle hunter and his dog in search of the prized tuber.

Pro Tip: Visit Alba, the white truffle capital of the world, during the Alba International White Truffle Festival which takes place on the weekends of October and November.

village of Palazzuolo sul Senio

The pretty village of Palazzuolo sul Senio

Photo credit: hedonistichiking.com

4. Visit a food festival

Visit Italy in the fall and you’ll be hard pressed not to stumble upon a local food festival! These are held throughout October and November in many towns and villages across Italy. Besides the white truffle festival in Alba, where consumers and chefs from all over the world bid for the Tartufi Bianchi. There are truffle festivals in Tuscany, Umbria, Marche and Emilia-Romagna.

However, it’s not just about truffles. Two of our favorite festivals are the mushroom fair in Borgotaro in the province of Parma and the chestnut festival in Palazzuolo sul Senio in northern Tuscany. The Borgotaro mushroom is a superior type of boletus that grows wild in the woods of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines and is the star of the four-day festival which includes tastings, street food, displays and music . Best of all, the festival is a great way to mingle with locals and learn about Italian food culture.

Chestnut Festival of Palazzuolo sul Senio (The Sagra del Marrone) takes place every Sunday in October. During the event, market stalls in the heart of the medieval village are filled with chestnut-themed products such as cakes, breads and other desserts. You can stay right in the heart of the village at the charming Locanda Senio, either independently or as part of a tour of northern Tuscany. The hotel is part of the unique Albergo Diffuso group which offers accommodation in newly renovated accommodation scattered throughout the village.

Pro Tip: Just 13 kilometers from Palazzuolo sul Senio, still in the Mugello region of northern Tuscany, the village of Marradi holds its own chestnut festival every Sunday in October.

snow-capped peaks of Piedmont

Hike in the fall with a view of the snow-capped peaks of Piedmont

Photo credit: hedonistichiking.com

5. Take to the hills

Other hikers and nature lovers will appreciate the cooler temperatures in September and October. If you like to enjoy the warmth of the sun, without the scorching heat of summer, this is the time to explore Italy’s hills and mountain landscapes on foot.

In northern Italy, autumn brings with it clear blue skies and a special light that spills over the Italian countryside and the medieval cobbled streets of its hilltop towns. Temperatures are cooler than in the south, but the climate is ideal for hiking.

Pro Tip: September and October are great months for hiking in southern Italy where temperatures are fierce during the summer months but can still push the early 20s into October.

Hiking in the vineyards of Piedmont

Hiking in the vineyards of Piedmont at harvest time

Photo credit: hedonistichiking.com

6. Harvest time in Italy

Another great reason to visit Italy in the fall is that it’s harvest time in Italy. You will hear the hum of the frantoio olive press during the olive harvest months (September to December) and have plenty of opportunities to taste wines and olive oils from local producers.

Pro Tip: In Tuscany, the olive harvest is the perfect opportunity to taste fett’untatoasted bread soaked in freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil.

7. Visits in the fall

I love visiting the Italian Lakes in September when the crowds have died down and the prices start to drop. It’s time to stroll through the lake’s iconic botanical gardens. At Villa Taranto on Lake Maggiore, the spectacular fall foliage is resplendent with dazzling golden and amber hues, and the Dahlia Maze stays open until the end of October. There is also much less traffic on the main roads around the lakes which are now against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. If you’re lucky you can spot them in the sun, but if you’re visiting in October be aware that it’s the mountainous north so temperatures can be cooler.

While September is still a fairly high season in central Italy, as you progress into October you will find quieter galleries and thinner tourist crowds. The number of foreign visitors is decreasing in the hill towns of Tuscany and downtown Florence, as well as in smaller towns such as Lucca and Siena.

Pro Tip: Across Italy, hundreds of state-run museums and galleries, like the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, are free on the first Sunday of every month. You cannot pre-book tickets, but queues are smaller in October and November.

Shelter under the portico decorated with frescoes in Bologna

Shelter under the portico decorated with frescoes in Bologna

Photo credit: hedonistichiking.com

8. Take shelter under the ultimate umbrella

Not surprisingly, you are more likely to experience rainfall in October and November compared to the summer months. However, several of Italy’s most extraordinary cities offer the perfect solution in the form of wonderfully long porticoes that offer the ultimate refuge. No rain? Pass under some of the longest porticoes in the country in the city centers of Bologna, Turin and Padua where they stretch for 37 kilometers, 18 kilometers and 12 kilometers respectively.

Pro Tip: Turin is as famous for its shady porticoes as it is for its fabulous café culture. Take the time to dwell on a bicerin (a three-tiered drink with coffee, chocolate and cream) at Al Bicerin Cafe, which dates back to the mid-1700s.

For more information on traveling to Italy, check out these articles:

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