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Autumnal Leaves
Autumnal Leaves
Leafing Beyond Vermont: Looking for Fall Foliage In Spectacular and Surprising Places

by Mary Reynolds Thompson

She flaunts herself like some outrageous showgirl, blatant and brassy. Mother Earth, about to enter the dignified slumber of winter, holds us in her thrall with the blazing crimsons and golds of a setting sun. Before the pale palette of winter washes across the landscape, we go in search of fall foliage with the intensity of forty-niners longing to strike gold. So where do we go to see the most fiery colors, other than Vermont, of course? What other places, countries, and regions beckon?

Québec City, Canada

Just north of the Vermont border, the cacophony of color sparked by the turning leaves is a good enough reason to make Québec City your autumn destination. But it is certainly not the only one. Québec City offers the flavor of Europe with historic ramparts, churches, narrow lanes and former battlefields, and districts revamped with museums, cafes, bars, restaurants. And, with a four-course French meal awaiting you at the end of the day in a cozy bistro in Vieux-Québec (Old Québec), you’ll want to work up an appetite strolling the historic Plains of Abraham close by the iconic. Chateau Frontenac.

For a quiet getaway, twelve miles to the east of Québec City, a modern bridge will bring you back in time to the Île d'Orléans where every charming village and farm seem to boast clapboard houses and churches with brightly painted roofs to set off the colors of the changing palettes of leaves. You can stop and have a gourmet meal or tour the art galleries or even stay in one of the farms. And don’t miss tasting the award-winning strawberry cider and apertif cider with maple syrup at the Cidrerie Verger Bilodeau in the town of Saint-Pierre.

Ozark Hills of Arkansas

Back in the USA, the Ozark hills of Arkansas are alive in autumn with fiery foliage to rival New England’s. Arkansas Northwest region offers prices that are much more affordable than those in Vermont and “No Vacancy” signs are rare, so you can afford to plan you trip at the last minute to ensure you arrive when the colors are at their best and brightest – usually in late October and early November. As a bonus the weather is usually a lot warmer than Vermont with highs averaging 71 degrees in October. And while you’re there spend some time in Eureka Springs and enjoy the healing waters at the numerous spas or get a massage after a tough day of leaf-peeping. Before hitting the local cuisine, take a vigorous hike along the glorious Ozark Highlands Trail and breathe in the changing colors close up.

London, England

Over the pond, Central London is beautiful in autumn when the royal oaks, chestnuts and lime trees turn from deep green to rich copper, blanketing Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens with a billowing, fiery quilt. With over 5,000 acres of royal parkland, why not enjoy your foliage in a setting of beautifully tended English gardens and serene reflecting pools? London is special for other reasons at this time of year. The mad rush of the summer crowds has subsided, and, if you stay around for November 5th, you’ll see all those piles of leaves put to good use as bonfires to burn effigies of Guy Fawkes, the traitor whose gunpowder plot of 1605 almost succeeded in blowing up parliament.

Loire Valley, France

Cross the channel into France and the Loire Valley, known as the “Garden of France,” is an autumn paradise. Tour along the river bathed in the burnished light of the balmy days as the red and gold leaves weave a tapestry for the hundreds of romantic chateaux. The grape harvest seems to bring out a festival in every village and is a fine time to enjoy the famous Loire Valley wines such as Vouvray, Pinot, and Anjou as well as heavenly local cheeses. October, the season of mist and mellow fruitfulness, is also the best time to sample regional specialties such as wild mushrooms and game and fish straight from the river.

Lake Como, Italy

While Italy may not have the autumn foliage that turns the northeastern US to red and gold in the fall, Lombardy has hillsides of vineyards turning brilliant colors. Rows of Lombardy poplars, the popular tree that originated in the region, turn a brilliant yellow. As the first layer of snow descends on the Alps and Dolomites, it only adds to the incredible beauty of the scene. November can be a great time to visit famously beautiful Lake Como as the summer crowds are long gone, and you still might get some warm days. Take your time going counterclockwise around the edge of the lake. Enjoy the view of the steep, tree-covered hillsides plummeting down to the water and then take the ferry across midway from Varenna to Bellagio. Farther south, beaches that were elbow-to-elbow in the summer are serene, and the sun still warm. So you can have your fiery colors and your seaside too.

Hakone National Park, Japan

On the other side of the world in Japan, fall foliage is called kouyou, which literally means “red leaves.” The most famous kouyou tree, the Japanese maple, turns bright crimson. But plenty of others put in an appearance: beeches, ginkgo, lacquer trees, and even the famous cherry tree, whose leaves can take on a fiery golden color. Even in the overwhelming urban megalopolis of Tokyo a short train trip will take you to Hakone National Park. It offers up some of the best kouyou in a blaze of color in late October and early November, all the more magnificent for the jaw-dropping backdrop of the snowcapped peak of Mount Fuji as well as streams, rivers, and waterfalls. Nearby you can lodge at a minshuku or ryokan (traditional Japanese b&b or inn) and take a soothing mineral bath.

So get fired up to travel this fall. With a bit of imagination – you’ll be reveling in the colors of the season, and “leaving” the crowds behind!

Mary Reynolds Thompson is a lifelong writer and traveler. Born in London, England, Mary fell in love with Positano, Italy at age three on a family vacation and hasn’t stopped exploring since. From the cobblestone lanes of Ljubljana to the wild, windy tip of Tierra del Fuego, Mary’s diverse range of travel experiences provide the insights for our destination features.

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