porto-portugal

There are plenty of places that warrant travelling in peak season; the gingerbread houses of Cologne’s Christmas Markets aren’t year-round, the dancing Aurora Borealis display only takes place over Greenland between November and January and the great migration across the Masai Mara occurs just once a year. Still, off-season travel shouldn’t be overlooked.

Savvy travellers pay attention: locals are likely to be more engaging when they’re not battling with an influx of patrons, hotels and flights are positively purse-friendly (compared to peak prices, you’re practically saving money) and you won’t have to worry about being shoulder-to-shoulder shuffling for a space to scoff your ice-cream on the steps of an Italian seaside town. Frankly, too many people can spoil experiences. These are the destinations that are best visited during off-season.

1. Porto, Portugal

The Portuguese coastal city with pretty, distinctive mosaic tiles was one of the most popular destinations this summer for a weekend fling. Visitor numbers soared as quickly as the temperatures. But as soon as the leaves start changing, the crowds start departing and cobbled streets become pleasantly clear. Visiting in the quieter months ensures the wait outside Café Santiage for a filthy francesinha is minutes, while tables at Nabos da Pùcara (order traditional tripas à moda) are occupied predominantly by a local crowd. Rosa et Al always has rooms. Aside from the fortified wine that gives Porto its fame, a flurry of galleries, year-round festivals and art exhibitions means that even with the occasional rain shower, the city’s interior is just as pretty. For creative culture, seek out Serralves Museum for cutting-edge contemporary art and gallery-cum-fashion-store, The Gallery Wrong Weather, a contemporary wonderland devoted to the visual arts.

2. Gozo, Malta

Often hailed as Malta’s best-kept secret, like Chinese whispers this tiny Maltese island has found its way into the ears of one-too-many travellers and in the height of the summer can feel a little claustrophobic. Take advantage of the 300 days of sun and discover neolithic temples, Calypso’s Cave (legend tells us this is where Odyssey was seduced by the sea nymph Calypso) and the underwater tunnels brimming with marine life. In the emptier spring or autumn months, you’ll have the treasured sights almost all to yourself. Seek out the craggy coves and virgin beaches, scramble over the rocks to reach Ghajn Barrani (just beyond the villages of Marsalforn and Xlendi) or catch local fishermen at Dahlet Oorot, an intimate beach where a line of Skittles-coloured boats bob up and down on the gin-clear water. Travellers who have become accustomed to long table waits in the height of summer smugly snag a table at Ta’French in the quieter months. Order platefuls of seafood pasta brimming with lobster bisque and red prawns – the house speciality.

3. Rajasthan, India

The jewel in India’s crown, hopeless romantics will be drawn to Udaipur’s sparkling Lake Palace – but the real Rajasthan can be discovered in Jaipur where tradition and modernity fuse in an enchanting combination. Test your taste buds and embark on a street-food tour, starting off in Jawahar Circle. Enter beneath the ornate carvings of Patrika Gate to find food vendors jostling for space next to spice and tech merchants. Seek out a portion of pav bhaji – most Rajasthani dishes are bread based and this hearty, mashed vegetable curry is no exception. Wash it down with a makhaniya lassi, a nutty, buttermilk yoghurt drink that’ll satisfy the sweetest tooth. Finish off roaming in Rajasthan with an overnight stop in Agra for a sunrise expedition to the world’s most elaborate declaration of love. Wander the lush and verdant grounds of the pearly-white Taj Mahal as the gates first open; you’ll be treated to an exotic birdsong performance and utter tranquillity before the crowds descend.

4. New Orleans, US

Sure, everyone should experience Mardi Gras in the Big Easy, but if you don’t fancy making hotel reservations a year in advance or swigging bourbon from tacky necklaces with shot glasses attached to them, then autumn is the ideal time to visit. New Orleans’s melting pot of cultures is best explored through its diverse cuisine. Slurp $1 oysters in the French Market, head to Neyow’s Creole Café for mac ‘n’ cheese and collard greens and Avery’s on Tulane for a bowl of po’boys filled with fried oysters, crayfish and gumbo. Ignore the countless people that tell you to check out Bourbon Street and follow the local crowd to Frenchmen Street. Bars blare out live music every night of the week and the cocktails are made with neat spirits rather than sugary syrup. Try the Gin Punch at Cane and Table where the crowd is eclectic and there’s not a bachelorette party in sight. The morning after the night before should be spent nursing a Bloody Mary piled high with celery, olives, spicy beans and bacon shavings at La Petite Grocery.

5. Cinque Terre, Italy

The pressure of “over-tourism” has meant that the hiking trails that snake between the five tiny fishing villages have placed a limit on the amount of amblers it welcomes. Italy’s most sought-after destination quietens downs during shoulder season making leisurely strolls (known as “passeggiates”) and vigorous (plan-free) hikes possible. Refuel in Riomaggiore, where you’ll find generously laden brochettes of shrimp, calamari and anchovies on offer by the water. Once you’ve had your share of seafood, head to La Cantina del Macellaio. The former butcher centres its menu around meatier fare; order the white rabbit ragout and pecorino fondue. Wander across to Alberto Gelateria for a honey ice cream topped with basil and olive oil – it’s some of the best gelato in Italy. Out of the five villages, Monterosso is the only one with its own stretch of beach peppered with those iconic striped umbrellas. Visiting in May coincides with the annual lemon festivals, where roadside lemon stalls are elaborately decorated and limoncello is passed around freely.

Six Destinations That Look Their Best in Autumn

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