The summer heat has broken
The heat in the summer months in major Italian destinations like Rome, Florence and Venice can be unbearable. There is no reason to suffer through that, just time your visit from mid-September and through late October and you will have all of the benefits of summer – like warm days and blue skies – and none of the drawbacks – like almost non-existent air-conditioning.
Hotel prices are lower
August is when Italians take their annual vacation, and it’s also the month with the highest hotel rates. Outside of year-round hot spots, most accommodation prices will plunge as soon as Italian children go back to school in the second week of September, so try and time your visit for then.
A little fog and drizzle can be a wonderful and cozy thing – perfect for spending long days in museums and churches. You can choose from massive, art-packed titans like the Vatican Museums or the Uffizzi, or smaller gems like the Borghese Gallery or the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
The countryside outside of Rome and Florence is dotted with naturally heated mineral springs that have been sought out for their healing powers for centuries. Spend a morning soaking in the sulfur-rich and slightly stinky, boiling hot waters near Viterbo, or the mineral-rich and slightly cooler waters in Tuscany’s Val D’Orcia.
The beach is empty
You can enjoy beach resorts in southern Italy with at least half of the August crowds. There can be a tempestuous few days in early September with lashing rainstorms, but it is usually very short lived. The water temperature is the warmest it will be all year and perfect for a mid-day dip.
Vendemmia – the grape harvest
The early days of autumn are the time to gather the ripe grapes off the vines that will be made into wine. In Italian, this is called the vendemmia. Many vineyards celebrate the harvest with organized days where you can assist with picking the grapes and enjoy a lunch, with wine of course, on the estate.
One of the most fundamental building blocks of Italian cuisine is olive oil. Used for so much more than just dipping your bread in while you wait for dinner, the olive harvest happens in the late autumn months before the real winter chill sets in. Learn about this liquid gold with an olive oil tasting.
As soon as the first cool nights fall on the Italian countryside, crates of porcini mushrooms appear in markets and on display in trattoria doorways. Enjoy their rich, meaty flavor in a pasta sauce or in a hearty risotto. They are also delicious sautéed in olive oil and accompanied by a glass of Barolo or Brunello.
Another cool weather gastronomic delight are Italian truffles. Prized black and white winter truffles are foraged in Umbria, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Lazio, Abruzzo, and Molise. Black truffles are less expensive than white truffles and much bolder in flavor with an aromatic earthy taste. White truffles are much more expensive and have an infinitely more delicate aroma.
Romans welcome the change of seasons with piles and piles of artichokes. They are served in two styles; Carciofi alla Romana, trimmed and braised in olive oil, wine, and wild mint, and Carciofi alla giudia, where they are deep fried to a golden crisp.
Late fall is the season for sweet, rich chestnuts. They are harvested and celebrated in the small towns outside of Rome with festivals known as sagras almost every weekend in October and November. Look for marron glacé gelato and shop for a box of glistening, violet studded marron glacé – is the perfect fall foodie souvenir.
Schiacciata con l’uva – grape focaccia
This sweet and salty treat is a Tuscan specialty and closely associated with the vendemmia, or wine harvest. Slabs of thick, chewy focaccia are studded with ripe purple grapes and slathered in newly pressed olive oil which when baked turns into fall on a plate.