Winning tip: Ojców national park, Poland
They call it the Złota Polska Jesień – the Polish Golden Autumn. It’s when the oaks and sycamores around Krakow do their best New England impression. Just 20 minutes’ drive north of the city is the smallest national park in the country: Ojców. A series of small, sylvan valleys turns into a beautiful patchwork of ochre and rust-red starting in September. There are forest trails running past streams, caves and crooked cottages. You can climb up to lookout points for views over the tops of the woods, and see Ojców Castle studding the hillside like something out of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire
A walk through Strid Wood with its sessile oaks and Wharfe river views takes in various types of autumnal wonder. The abbey is wonderful abbey, there’s a river feature called the Strid, where the Wharfe suddenly narrows, or a longer stroll to the top of Simon’s Seat in the moors to view the season’s multicoloured glories from above.
As you stroll along Windermere to the centre of Ambleside, autumn colours are abundant. Looking across the water, it seems that the treeline is alight with red and orange leaves. As you round the bend on to the road into town, you are faced with a hillside that celebrates autumn at its best, highlighting different colours throughout the day. Catch it at just the right time in the morning and you’ll see the mist creeping down and giving the trees an eerie presence. Catch it as the sun is descending in the late afternoon and you’ll be amazed at the vibrancy of the colours as the leaves are framed by the light from the setting sun.
Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire
The entire arboretum is fascinating at any time of year, but in late October the acer (Japanese maple) glade is absolutely magical. It’s a good idea to stay at the Hare and Hounds hotel (doubles from £125 B&B), which almost adjoins the arboretum and go to Westonbirt early in the morning to beat all the daytrippers and photographers because it does get very busy in the autumn. Another attraction is a new 300-metre aerial walkway that takes you 13 metres up into the canopy.
Herne Hill, London
After picking up a coffee in Herne Hill or breakfast at the wonderful Lido Cafe, take a stroll around Brockwell Park for wonderful views of the London skyline and beautiful autumnal colours. One place to stay or go for a drink is the Half Moon, right on the doorstep.
Dolgoch ‘rainforest’, north Wales
Snowdonia national park provides some of the richest, and most unspoilt autumnal views in the world. The Talyllyn Railway spoils visitors not just with a seven-mile journey from the Tywyn seafront up the beautiful Fathew valley towards the peak of Cader Idris on steam trains, but also gives direct access to the autumnal majesty of the Dolgoch Falls and Nant Gwernol woodland. Alighting at Dolgoch station and following the waymarked trails, visitors are soon amid the valley’s temperate rainforest habitat, sometimes referred to as the Celtic Rainforest, surrounded by ancient trees and carpets of moss and ferns. This habitat is full of life and, in autumn, the landscape glows in lush greens and golden browns.
The glorious town of Peebles, an hour’s drive south of Edinburgh, is scenic at all times of year but, come early October, the trees that surround the town explode into a riot of colour. For close-ups of huge specimens (including the caramel-smelling Japanese katsura tree) visit the nearby superb Dawyck botanic gardens (adult £6.50, child free), which has an excellent cafe. Peebles itself has a top-notch coffee shop/chocolate boutique, Cocoa Black.
ELSEWHERE IN EUROPE
Cinque Terre, Italy
Autumn is the best season to see and sense the explosion of colours in the woods and paths high above the Mediterranean as you walk from one town in Italy’s Cinque Terre to another. The Sentiero Azzurro connects the villages between Monterosso al Mare and Riomaggiore over 12km and will take you from shady copses sheltered by red- and gold-leafed trees to deep green olive groves before you emerge into sunlit walkways with views of the shimmering sea. However, some of the route is closed at present (most famously the Via del’Amore at Riomaggiore, reopening in 2019) due to landslides, and in autumn there are often closures as wet weather damages paths. On some sections there’s a charge if €5-€7 to use the path – the money helps with repair bills.