The leaves, they are a-changing — and not just in New England. Check out these five alternative leaf-peeping destinations for an autumn to remember.
Think Americans invented leaf-peeping? The Japanese have been at it for centuries, only it’s called Momijigari (red-leaf hunting) there. The ancient capital, Kyoto, turns vibrant shades of yellow, orange, and red in November, thanks to the hundreds of varieties of maple, offset by golden palaces and dark-wood teahouses. Giggly geisha and canoodling couples stroll the leafy Philosopher’s Walk temple trail and the tree-lined Kamo River, wearing kimono decorated with autumn-themed scenes. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/quoi)
For gastronomes, Kyoto is like Mecca — you have to try hard to have a bad meal here. But save up for at least one kaiseki feast of Kyo-ryori cuisine. These beautifully presented multi-course meals are served in traditional tatami-mat rooms by kimono-clad staff, with plates, garnishes, and ingredients reflecting the season. Most have views onto gardens filled with petite, colorful maples. Try Nishiki restaurant and stay at the Hyatt Regency Kyoto.
A Real Corker
Maples might get all the leaf-peeping glory, but the autumn vistas in California’s Napa Valley are hard to beat, with hills covered in russet-red vine leaves. This time of year is called “Crush” by locals, and not just because it’s harvest season. The social whirl is in full swing, so there’s plenty to do when you’re not ogling the foliage, including the Flavour! Napa Valley food and wine festival, taking place November 17 to 20, 2011.
But whenever you come, pack a picnic, pick up a bottle from William Hill Estate Winery’s tasting room and have a sunny lunch amid 140 acres of red vines. Later, plump for a dinner of organic, Tuscan-inspired food by chef Michael Collins at Siena at The Meritage Resort & Spa, and splurge on a stay among the trees in woodsy Calistoga Ranch, or opt for the more wallet-friendly Hennessey House B&B in downtown Napa. (Photo Courtesy of Calistoga Ranch)
The Alps might be known for their evergreens, but in southeast Switzerland, the Upper Engadine Valley is paved with gold from late September to late October, as the needle-like leaves of the deciduous larch trees get ready to fall. The pure waters of the area’s Alpine lakes and rivers have a silver hue, reflecting the golden trees. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/SnapDoc)
Crowds flock to the valley’s most famous town, St. Moritz, but instead, why not opt for nearby Pontresina, a quaint mountain village with traditional stone-walled and sgraffitod houses? Stay at the Grand Hotel Kronenhof, where you can marvel at the leaf color while lounging by the hotel’s spa pool, and then savor local specialities in the hotel’s cozy larch-wood-panelled Kronenstübli restaurant.
Drive carefully in North Carolina in October. The car in front of you might hit the breaks at any moment, suddenly stopping to marvel at the rainbow of leaf colors carpeting North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains. Maples, oaks, gums, cherries, and hickories turn soft yellows, zesty oranges, and deep burgundies, interspersed with evergreen pines and firs, and the occasional dash of black — around 1,500 beautiful black bears roam these hills.
Unlike the bears, you can’t sleep in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as there are no hotels or lodgings (although you could rough it with a tent). Instead, drive half an hour to the pretty mountain town of Asheville, where you’ll want to book dinner at The Dining Room, presided over by chef Rick Boyer, at the renowned Biltmore Estate, then get a dose of real Southern hospitality by staying at the Black Walnut Bed & Breakfast Inn. (Photo courtesy of Biltmore Estate)
Pull on those hiking boots and hit the trails in the Laurentian Mountains for one of Canada’s most spectacular fall-foliage displays. Just a couple of hours north of the New York and Vermont borders, you’ll be surrounded by sweeping views of flame-colored hills and valleys, a color-blend effect of the mixed forests of beeches, birches, and maples, which individually turn red, gold, and orange.
Go in late September and early October for the best display of leaf color. Stay in picturesque Mont Tremblant village, which has special fall-foliage weekends during the season, including its Grand Prix of Colours hiking event on October 2nd. Refuel after your hike with a delicious fondue at La Savoie, then stay among the trees in one of the cozy log cabins of Côté Nord Tremblant. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/-[Eric]-)