As the first autumn leaves start to fall, we can’t help but dream of exciting destinations where we can see the foliage in all its yellow-brown glory. Italy, with its abundance of hills, forests, lakes and vineyards, is surely high on that list. We’ve picked our favourite places in the country that look even more spectacular in the autumn to help you plan your next Italian adventure.
From the lush vineyards of Tuscany to the shimmering Amalfi Coast or the green valleys of the Alps, Italy has an array of gorgeous regions, towns and islands where you can take in the stunning scenery and make the most of the autumn season – and, as this is Italy, eat lots of great food. Read on and start packing for the ultimate autumn escape.
Between yellow-red foliage and green hills, there’s no better time to visit Tuscany than autumn. This is harvest season, so expect to find lush vineyards – such as those in the Chianti area – and olive groves, next to mushrooms and chestnuts begging to be picked up. Some villages also hold sagras, festivals celebrating the local wine and the freshly harvested food – from chestnut festivals on Mount Amiata to the Truffle Festival in Volterra. To see the beautiful foliage, hike through the 368sqkm (142sqmi) Foreste Casentinesi park. Small hilltowns like San Gimignano are especially pretty during this time of year, while you can count on classics such as Florence, Siena and Lucca for a dreamy Instagram post.
Seen by some as Tuscany’s rougher, less popular sister, Umbria is one of the country’s most underrated treasures. Bordering Tuscany, Lazio and Le Marche, the region is dubbed the “green heart” of Italy. It certainly lives up to that nickname, thanks to its dense forests, cypress-topped hills and vast olive groves. Just like in Tuscany, food takes centre stage here, especially in the autumn – when you’ll be sure to find some of the best truffles, hams and cheeses in the town of Norcia. Head to Umbria’s capital, the hilltop town of Perugia, for the grand Palazzo dei Priori, and to Orvieto – a town sitting on a cliff of volcanic tuff – for the exquisite 14th-century cathedral Duomo di Orvieto.
One more region combining amazing landscapes with delectable food is Emilia-Romagna. October is one of the best times to visit, when the weather is mild and local produce is at its finest. Explore Bologna and its porticoed streets. This is also the home of tortellini and ragù (also known as Bolognese sauce). The city is known for the various food festivals held here mainly in November – such as truffle or chocolate festivals. There’s also the Sagra del Bollito in San Pietro in Casale – this celebrates the bollito, a dish made of boiled meat such as beef or pork. A bit further, in Ravenna, the colourful mosaics and the octagonal Basilica di San Vitale sparkle in the autumn terracotta hues. Don’t miss the divine Parmesan cheese in its birthplace, Parma.
Although Alberobello town’s whitewashed houses with conical roofs – called trulli – are just as quaint in October as they are in July, there’s no doubt that the autumn season’s earthly colours and quiet ambience make the region of Puglia all the more charming. Think rocky cliffs overlooking clear blue waters, and olive oil farms with centuries-old presses and mills inviting you to taste fine olive oil drizzled over bread or cheese. Cycle through the olive groves, marvel at ancient sites or duck under the stalactites in the Castellana Caves. Make sure to take part in a special culinary experience organised at a local masseria (traditional farm) – options include cheese-making classes and all sorts of cooking lessons with a nonna.
The glittering Amalfi Coast is a celeb magnet, and for good reason. Picturesque villages like Positano, with its luxurious hotels – which are less pricey in the autumn – and colourful houses trickling down the cliff, have long attracted entertainers and high-life enthusiasts. The towns along the coast or further up on the hills will amaze you with their elaborate churches and landscaped gardens, while the drive from Positano to Vietri sul Mare offers some splendid views. Lemons are a staple here, so it’s worth taking a lemon tour with a farmer and trying the local lemon cake or the famous limoncello liqueur. A short boat ride away, the island of Capri brims with hiking trails and delicious food, from succulent tomatoes to roasted squash.
The best time to admire the glistening Italian lakes is by far the autumn season. Boat rides and lakeside strolls guarantee a sense of peacefulness which can only be truly felt during this time of year – is there anything more relaxing than gazing at the reflection of the red-hued leaves across the water? Lined with villas, Como and Garda are among the most cosmopolitan of the lakes, yet others like Lake Iseo are equally serene and pretty. The lakes go hand in hand with the majestic Alps reflected on their glossy waters. Also known as the Dolomites, the Italian Alps tower over the regions of Trentino and South Tyrol, which stand out for their green valleys full of vineyards, organic farms and ancient castles. Hike through the nature reserve Val di Mello to make the most of the woodlands and meadows.
If you don’t feel like saying goodbye to the beach or the sunshine just yet, then Sardinia could be your go-to autumn paradise. The island is filled with beaches, which are best enjoyed once the summer crowds are gone, and hiking trails that cut through its rugged terrain. Expert hikers and adventurers will love the climb to the deepest gorge in Europe, Gorropu, as well as the three-hour hike that takes you from Cala Fuili beach to Cala Luna beach – the latter boasts creamy sands, turquoise waters and rocky caves. Explore the remnants of the ancient Nuragic civilisation before tucking into fresh seafood paired with local wine. Don’t leave without seeing the pink flamingoes that nest in the saltwater pond Su Stani Saliu.
The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily is famous for its beaches – which often stay warm throughout October and November – its archaeological sites and the great food, based on some of the tastiest products in Italy. This is the land of pistachio, so pass by a farm to see how the Bronte pistachios are grown and to try nutty treats – from cookies to spreads – or celebrate the pistachio harvest at the pistachio festival in late September. History and architecture buffs will love the Norman churches, baroque palazzos and Greek temples scattered all over Sicily. Among the greats are the Temple of Apollo in Syracuse and the Unesco-protected Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. Last but not least, no Sicily trip would be complete without a visit to Mount Etna. You can actually hike the active volcano or go on a helicopter tour to see it from above, before stopping by the many wineries around it for a tasting. Nearby, the hilltop town of Taormina is as picture-perfect as it gets.