The Northeast (and southeastern Canada) receive a lot of acclaim for their fall foliage, and rightfully so, because it’s spectacular. But it’s not the only game in town. Last year we took a glance at the top places around the country to peep leaves. This time around, we look at the best international spots for fall foliage.
The Canadian Rockies pack just as much as punch as those in the U.S. Banff and Jasper national parks are full of color against a backdrop of slate-grey mountains with snow-capped peaks. All those pictures you’ve seen of Lake Louise? Imagine it draped in gold and orange. Vancouver’s Stanley Park is an urban oasis, and in autumn, maple, cottonwood and red alder trees change colors right next to the harbor.
Typically leaves begin changing in the northern islands and mountains first, and the colors roll south as autumn progresses. If you time it right, you can follow the changes down through the country. The best times are usually late October through late November. Japan Rail offers passes coordinated with the forecasts. There aren’t many sights better than Mt. Fuji ringed by beautiful foliage in the first days of November.
From the eastern reaches of France, through northern Italy, Switzerland, Bavaria, Austria and on to the Julian Alps of Slovenia, there are about 750 miles of mountains dividing Europe. Italy’s Dolomites shine yellow and gold in the autumn sun. Reds and yellows light up the valleys of Switzerland contrasted against bright blue lakes. The Tyrol region features distinctive churches in the high passes surrounded by trees in metamorphosis. It’s capped off by Lake Bled in Slovenia, with an island in a lake with mountains all around. Pure magic.
Moscow celebrates fall with the Golden Autumn harvest festival featuring carved pumpkins of all shapes and sizes. St. Petersburg is full of parks and gardens that become glorious in golden autumn. In Russia’s east, Lake Baikal and the taiga forest of Siberia range from yellow to orange to red, making for breathtaking landscapes. The towns of the Golden Ring northeast of Moscow are evening more charming with an autumnal tint.
So you’ll have to wait until our spring to take in the amazing colors of New Zealand’s fall. But it’s worth the wait. The show starts in early April on the South Island, creeping north as the season progresses. Central Otago and Queenstown turn, rolling up along the path of the Southern Alps then hitting Queenstown and moving on to the North Island before May sees the leaves turn to brown and begin falling off the trees.
You’ll soon be able to journey right into space to get up close and personal with the stars. But not all of us have that kind of cash just lying around. Despite the rampant light pollution, there are still places here on earth that are great for taking a break to marvel at the night sky. Here are a few of those spots, as designated by the International Dark-Sky Association.
Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park, New Zealand
The park, in combination with the Mackenzie Basin on the South Island, is an international dark sky reserve and has had outdoor lighting controls in place since the 1980s. With 23 peaks around 10,000 feet or higher and city lights a long way off, the reserve is a popular stargazing spot and seeks to honor the traditional role of the stars in navigation and folklore in Maori culture.
The Ring of Kerry makes for a fabulous drive full of natural wonders in the daytime. When night falls and the daytrippers are gone, a different but just as spectacular scene plays out overhead. It’s no wonder neolithic monuments tracking the movements of heavenly bodies dot the Iveragh Peninsula. On clear nights, visitors can see the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxy with the naked eye.
Ramon Crater, Israel
Situated in the Negev Desert, the crater is actually a geological feature unique to Israel and the Sinai Peninsula called a makhtesh formed by erosion. The desert landscape has proved much more difficult to settle than the densely packed north of Israel, and neighboring communities have made a commitment to preserving the light conditions to promote astrotourism. Interpretive programs and stargazing tours are offered on site.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
At the confluence of the Mojave and Colorado deserts, the park is just far enough away from the bright lights of Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego to put on an outstanding nighttime show. Each November, Joshua Tree is home to the Night Sky Festival. The event this year features an astrophotography workshop and astronomy sessions. At the Star Party on Nov. 10, astronomers will tell the stories of the sky while onlookers can see for themselves through the 20 telescopes on hand.
Elqui Valley, Chile
At the southern edge of the Atacama Desert, about 250 miles north of Santiago is the Gabriela Mistral Dark Sky Sanctuary. It was the first — the total is now four — place to be designated as a dark sky sanctuary. Several observatories line the mountainous terrain, where outside light is kept to a minimum and certain areas are at times off-limits to the public. The sanctuary not only preserves some 90,000 acres for celestial study, but it is also home to several threatened and endangered species.
It’s not quite the same as Christmas in July, but you can give yourself the gift of peace of mind by booking your festive season travel now. If you have a specific resort or destination in mind, you might be surprised to find how tight space is already for the period around Christmas and New Year’s. You can’t exactly go on vacation and leave a couple of your kids behind because you couldn’t get another room. So do yourself a favor and start planning as soon as possible.
People who stayed at resorts over the festive season last winter got first dibs on booking that space for the upcoming season. Perhaps they had such a good time, they invited more of their family members to join them this year and have already had their rooms secured for months. If the winters are cold in your neck of the woods, you can rest assured that your neighbors will be flocking in droves to sunny resorts in Hawaii, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
If your crew still can’t get its act together for a few months, your travel advisor will be up to date on which resorts have last-minute space. But don’t leave things up to chance! You’ll be much happier and less stressed if you take the initiative now. If you’re waiting until the weather turns, you could find yourself left out in the cold.
If you’re out of luck on land or prefer hitting the high seas, a cruise could be your answer. Again, though, you need to act quickly, especially if you’re bringing the whole family and need multiple cabins. Virtuoso-preferred partners offer some great itineraries to celebrate in style.
If all else fails, think outside the box. There’s a whole other hemisphere where it’s warm when we’re cold. South America, Southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, they all have nice weather as one year turns into the next.
It’s not especially warm in Europe’s heartland, though the jet stream does keep things milder than many parts of the U.S., but a river cruise can let you catch the end of the beautiful Christmas markets along the Rhine and Danube. If you haven’t seen a European Christmas market before, they are a sight to behold. Plus, there’s plenty of mulled wine to help you keep warm, there are great Christmas dinners served on the river and you can ring in the new year a few hours ahead of your friends.
No matter what you end up picking, don’t wait until it’s too late and you no longer have your choice of options. There will be plenty of scrambling trying to track down those last-minute gifts. Getting started with your holiday travel plans now could end up as the best gift you and family receive.