Six Alternative Destinations For A European Autumn Break

In urgent need of an autumn break? We’ve picked out six seasonal destinations to visit when you’re in search of misty vistas, fiery leaf displays and harvest pickings

Cardinal-coloured leaves? Check. Steaming bowls of hearty grub? Check. Crisp temperatures that require a scarf but let you leave the Heattech at home? Check. Our ingredients list for an autumn escape might not be long, but it's specific. Luckily, we've whipped up a list of six alternative autumn destinations across Europe for a long weekend away that spells a recipe for success if you're in search of seasonal inspiration. From hot-ticket exhibitions in Rome to a foraging offering in Spain, here's where we're heading for our autumn adventures.

Alternative autumn escapes for 2023

Rome, Italy



Yes, we've been going on about the renaissance of Europe's cultural capitals for a while - but it's with good reason. Our coos over Paris' rash of new stays had barely ceased when Italy's grande dame city got in on the competition. New hotels in the Eternal City are becoming as ubiquitous as sexy priest calendars, with indie openings such as Palazzo Ripetta and Maalot Roma joining the mighty Six Senses Rome and Bulgari Hotel Roma - now all open, autumn is the perfect time to try them out for size. There's also a hot new exhibition in town: head over to Palazzo Esposizioni Roma to catch the retrospective of famed photographer Don McCullin, which brings together over 200 photographs from his life's work. At this time of year, Rome's stifling summer heat relents, giving way to milder temperatures more suited to outdoor explorations, too. October, in particular, promises crisp blue skies as the "Ottobrate Romane" arrives - a stretch of good weather Romans make use of by heading out on weekend trips to the surrounding countryside. Join them with a hike to Cerveteri Falls, just an hour outside the city.

Albarracín, Spain



Spain's northeastern Teruel province is known for its autumn mushroom offering: join a foraging tour on a damp autumn day, and you'll be skirting waterfalls, forests and jagged rocky hills in search of some 20-odd varieties of edible fungi. The region is an autonomous community in Aradon, and one of Spain's wettest areas - but don't let that put you off a pre-winter adventure. There's something pleasingly seasonal about its auburn hillsides. Base yourself in Albarracín, a red-stone fortress town of crumbling old alleyways guarded by snoozing elders. At this time of year, the town's restaurants throw themselves into the season with mushroom-dotted menus; you'll find ceps in garlicky soups, and forest finds incorporated into rich wild boar stews. It's hearty country cuisine that will warm you up after days spent striding in the hills. Hotels can be a little basic: try Casa de Santiago for cosy set-ups with views across the town's terracotta rooftops.

Leuven, Belgium



Not heard of this cosy, cobbled Flanders city? Just 30 minutes from Brussels, Belgium's historic university town is like a Dutch-inflected Oxford, with better beers. The city houses both one of Europe's oldest educational institutions and the headquarters of Stella Artois, making it an unlikely mecca for books and brews. Dodge bumbling, scarf-wrapped students on sit-up-and-beg bikes as you wander the compact centre between Renaissance-era shop fronts, red-brick townhouses and the elegant spires of the gothic town hall. Students constitute a third of Leuven's population, so, despite its ancient exterior, you'll find it a young-at-heart city, with bustling, affordable restaurants and bars around every corner. Try the relaxed Bistro Tribunal or casual wine spot Bar Jerome for dinner, before heading over to Café Belge to sample over 100 different local brews. The café is on Oude Market, a terrace-filled square that has become known as "Europe's longest bar", thanks to its ample alcohol dispensaries.

Spetses, Greece



When the summer holiday crowds have gone home, Greece's islands transform into tranquil, unhurried idylls. Case in point? Spetses, a pine-scented rock situated a two-hour ferry ride from Athens in the Attica region of Greece. Just 27km in length, with one road encircling the entire island, this dinky destination has a sleepy countenance that belies its fiery history. Spetses was the first island to raise a revolutionary flag in 1821, declaring independence from the Ottoman Empire. Today, you can spot cannons ringing the old harbour and, in the largest town, Dapia, a statue to the revolutionary woman sea captain Laskarina Bouboulina stands proudly. Start your day with a coffee opposite her on the terrace at Poseidonion Grand Hotel, before heading to the Bouboulina Museum to find out more. Then, hire a bike and explore the island on two wheels, in search of secluded pebbled coves and aquarium-clear seas. Note that off-season, you'll have to contend with odd opening hours at island restaurants.

Stavanger, Norway



Autumn in Stavanger might not be warm enough for you to wear your Tevas, but we're confident this historic spot's picture-book looks are enough to entice even the most reluctant traveller from bedding down for hibernation at the city's elegant Eilert Smith Hotel. One of Norway's oldest settlements, with its roots stretching back to the Viking era, Stavanger is a harbourfront city in the country's south-west. Spend days strolling the streets of the old town, Gamle Stavanger, where clapboard fishermen's houses are still necklaced by late-flowering roses in autumn, and all roads lead to the 12th-century cathedral, or take boat trips over Lysefjorden to gaze up in adoration at the famous Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) formation. Unexpectedly, Stavanger's restaurant scene is pretty starry. RE-NAA is the city's hot (and hard to get) booking - something like a Norwegian-style Noma - but the autumn offering is equally impressive at sustainability-focused K2, more casual Bravo and vegan Bellies, with seasonal, local, and often foraged, produce filling menus.

Transylvania, Romania



What is it about Transylvania right now? These days, you're less likely to find gothic bloodsuckers stalking its rugged ridges and more likely to intercept the likes of Angelina Jolie, Elon Musk or King Charles on a trip to Transylvania. All three are known to frequent Romania's unspoilt landscapes. Where once we headed out to Albania in search of the sublime, the cool kids (excluding Musk) are now making tracks to the central Romanian region, in search of misty vistas, late-summer wildflower meadows and slow-paced adventures tracking lynx, wolves and bears. In autumn, the place to be is the Mociar Forest, the country's oldest woodland, which covers some 567 hectares. As the season arrives, this vast arboreal stretch turns out a mesmeric leaf display in furious, fiery hues. Make your base Bethlen Estates in the step-back-in-time Transylvanian village of Cris. The guesthouses are located in the restored ruins of historic Saxon properties, awash with rustic furnishings and reclaimed features.

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