October can be an awkward month for travelling. As I discussed last week, the weather can be unpredictable, even in the Mediterranean, and beach holidays can be a risky bet, unless you fly well relatively far south.
But if you are not a sun worshipper, and, like me, you love the countryside and the autumnal landscape, it’s a wonderful time for walking and touring - whether in Britain or on the Continent. And it’s also the season when Europe’s cultural capitals get back into full swing and the opera, music, ballet and exhibition programmes all kick off.
Here are some suggestions for how to make the most of this October.
1. Cambridge for the gardens I don’t know what the statistics are, but I doubt that any city in the world has quite so many gardens in such a small space. Or such variety - from the specimen-rich Botanical Gardens to the formality of college lawns and terraces, the more fanciful planting of the fellows’ gardens, the riverside meadows of the Backs: all framed by some of the most beautiful architecture in Britain. As the leaves turn, they have a melancholic beauty which is offset by the energy of a new term starting. There is no better time to visit.
2. Berlin for the culture Berlin’s cultural attractions are often overshadowed by Paris, Vienna and the great Italian cities. Wrongly so - it has some of the best galleries, museums and musical programmes in the world, and given its extremely cold winter, this is the month to make the most of them.
Among the exhibitions to be seen this October are the Renaissance Portrait show at The Bode-Museum, including works by Donatello and Botticelli, and a major retrospective on the Japanese artist Hokusai (he of The Wave) at the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum. The Berlin Philharmonic is performing several times during the month - full details and and links on the website below.
3. New Forest for the Fall Perhaps it’s time to thing of another name for the New Forest. It has been there for well over 900 years, after all, and a significant number of the oaks and beeches which provide such a vivid display of colour at this time of year, are more than three centuries old.
If you visit during October, in addition to the famous ponies, you are likely to see pigs foraging for acorns and beechnuts under the rules of pannage covering animals owned by local residents.
4. Normandy for the gastronomy You won’t be surprised to hear that in this land of Calvados, cider and seafood, there are several seasonal food festivals this month, including those covering mushrooms at Belleme, apples at Vimoutiers, scallops at Villers-sur-Mar, and apples, cider and cheese at Conches-en-Ouche. Details on the website below.
Note too that the Seine Maritime region of Normandy, which has some of the best private gardens in France is offering entrance for two-for-the-price of one on presentation of a Secret Gardens festival brochure (available from local tourist offices until the end of the year).
5. Peak District for the country houses The great appeal of the Peak District landscape is the geological contrast between the open peaty uplands of the High Peak, studded with boulders of millstone grit, and the chalk river valleys and woodlands of the White Peak. Come here in October for walks, cycling, or visiting the great country houses of the area before they close for winter. These include Chatsworth, Haddon Hall and nearby Hardwick Hall.
The National Trust estate at Kedleston Hall on the southern edges of the park, has a guided Autumn Tree Walk around the pleasure grounds and parkland on October 16 (normal admission charge plus £3 per person; book on 01332 842191).
6. Tuscany for the warmth It’s the heat that make the difference to the Tuscan autumn. There is an evening chill which you don’t get in summer, of course, and seasonal mists may hang over the valleys in the early morning. But the sun is still strong enough to burn it off and bask the day in warmth - temperatures peak at about 20C.
As in Normandy, gastronomy is taken seriously during the season of fruitfulness. Among the regional food festivals are the Sagra del Fungo e della Castagna (mushrooms and chestnuts) in Vivo d’Orcia in the Valdorcia on October 9 and 16; and similar fare at the autumn festival in Abbadia San Salvatore, not far from Montalchino on October 15 and 16.
7. Lake District for the romantics Personally I love the high fells in autumn, when the bracken dies back to a deep russet and, on clear days, the lakes seem to glow in the low sunlight. And if the skies are cloudy, anyone with a similarly romantic streak can enjoy the Autumn Poetry events at the Wordsworth House and Garden, in Cockermouth: on October 10-13, 24 and 26 at 11.30am and 2.30pm there will be readings of seasonal poetry at the writer’s childhood home (information: 01900 824805).
8. Japan for the maple leaves Everyone knows about the cherry blossom season in early spring, but Japanese parks and gardens are also dazzlingy beautiful during the autumn, when the brilliantly coloured maple leaves also come into their own.
It isn’t too late to get out there this season. InsideJapan still has availability on several departures and can advise about the best timing. The 14-night Best of Japan self-guided itinerary takes in Tokyo, Kyoto (the key destination for gardens), and Miyajima. From £2,110 per person ( based on two sharing) including b&b accommodation in both Japanese ryokan and western-style hotels, all domestic transport, private guiding in Tokyo and Kyoto, and some evening meals but not international flights.
9. Epping for the forest London or Essex-based families looking for some outdoor entertainment don’t have far to look during half-term week (beginning October 24). The Field Studies Council is organising several “Days for Kids” aged between 5 and 14 years old in Epping Forest. All courses are led by qualified tutors and themes include “Survival Skills”, “Woodland Pioneers”, “Pond Dipping and “Autumn Antics”. From £6 a head.
10. Andalusia for the touring If you haven’t seen the great sights of Ronda, Granada, Cordoba and Seville, October is an excellent time to do it. Flights and car hire are cheap, the weather is warm, but not too hot for driving and the hordes of daytrippers from the coast which plague Ronda and Granada in particular in summer, have gone. Never the less, be sure to book tickets to the ever-popular Alhambra before you arrange your trip (www.alhambra-tickets.es).