When we hear “autumn” we usually think about the leaves changing colours, hot chocolate, pumpkins, but there’s a lot more to discover and to experience in the stunning “Bel Paese”.
“Summer is over”. That’s what you’re gonna hear for the next couple of weeks, but it’s not necessarily something bad. A lot of people actually prefer to shy away from crowded beaches and, most of all, to escape the heat. Those people know that autumn is one of the best, if not THE best, seasons to visit Italy. Yes, of course every season has its unique charm, don’t get us wrong, we love Italy during the summer, with sunny and salty days at the beach as well as in the winter in the mountains, but there’s something really special about autumn, especially in Italy.
Not only because the temperatures begin to slowly cool down (thankfully), but also because of the many activities, festivities, fairs, good food (obviously) and stunning sightseeing. Not to mention the yellowish and reddish shades in the Italian countryside, with its hills, forests, lakes and vineyards… So dreamy! Long story short, there are a thousand reasons why Italy is worth a visit during autumn.
Here’s a list of ideas and suggestions to organise your ultimate trip to Italy. You'll be bewitched by the landscapes in this season, but I’m pretty sure that the food will seduce you as well.
1. Pumpkin patches & Pumpkin Festival in Venzone
Halloween… There are those who hate it, those who love it and those who see it just as an American holiday. But there’s one thing everybody agrees on, that being that the period between October and November is the season in which pumpkins are harvested.
There are many pumpkin fields spread all over Italy, but a particular spot has caught my eye: if you happen to be in Piedmont, you surely have to check out the “Casa delle Zucche” in Andenzeno (in the province of Turin), where the house is completely adorned and embellished with hundreds of varieties of pumpkins produced by the farm Menzio Alessandro “Tutto Zucche”. Here you can buy your dream pumpkins choosing from a myriad of varieties in terms of shape, size, colour, from ornamental to edible.
There are also some fairs organised in the same period, and the most important one in Italy is the pumpkin festival that takes place every year at the end of October in the historic centre of Venzone, a mediaeval town in northeastern Italy. What’s so special about this festival is that it mixes good music and folklore with the true protagonist of the feast, pumpkins! With jugglers, acrobats and music it will feel as if you had been plunged directly into the Middle Ages.
And how can we not praise pumpkins, so many delicious recipes, carved pumpkins everywhere to be seen… there’s even a contest for the heaviest squash! It’s the ultimate pumpkin lovers’ paradise (I myself am crazy about pumpkins, so believe me when I say that this place is worth a stop).
2. Mushroom picking in the wild
An important ingredient for many local Italian dishes are mushrooms, which can be found easily around the countryside, in the woods. As you may already know, Autumn is a humid season that creates the perfect environmental characteristic for the prized mushrooms! Be sure however to look into the local laws, many regions require a permit for a price to go mushroom hunting, in order to preserve the ecosystem.
In Northern Italy the alps are the most prosperous for mushrooms: The pine tree woods offer excellent protection from the sun and hold humidity, granting the mushrooms enough area to grow. The areas we advise are Camonica Valley, Asiago Highland, Valtellina and close to the Maggiore Lake. The Borgo Val di Taro is considered the capital of the famous and delicious Porcini mushrooms, which can surely be found in the area.
In the Centre, the Alps make way for the Apennine mountains, which cut in half the Italian Peninsula. The areas around Terni, Pontremoli, and in the National park of the Sibillini mountains allow for the correct terrain.
In the South and the Islands, we advise the entire National Park of Cilento, the Etna park, and the Nebrodi park.
Here’s a link with some itineraries and some further information about different areas for you to follow.
3. Chestnut Hunting and Roasting
Have you ever tried eating roasted chestnuts?
Not many know about this chestnut tradition in certain parts of Italy.
Chestnuts, (“castagne” in italian) are one of my personal favourite comfort foods of autumn and I usually eat them while sipping some hot vin brulé (mulled wine). In my hometown (Trieste), during the months of October and November, you can find little kiosks that sell a handful of roasted chestnuts in paper bags for you to eat, for the price of a few euros.
However, you can actually get them for free! All you need is to find a chestnut tree, which are incredibly common all over the peninsula, and collect the fuzzy balls that in this season fall from them. Once collected, you can roast them in the oven or in a specific pan you can find in most shops.
4. Take an autumn walk in one of the many charming villages spread all over the countryside.
Verona, Roma, Positano, Florence, Pisa, Assisi, Turin and many more, choose your fighter!
Here instead we have gathered a few ideas of some villages that you must absolutely visit in this particular season:
- Rango (in the northern mountainous region of Trentino), where the old houses lean against each other, mostly connected by internal courtyards and porticoes.
- Castelvetro (in the central region Emilia-Romagna). In this special place a special wine is produced, the so-called “Lambrusco Grasparossa”. In September Castelvetro enlivens itself to celebrate the festival dedicated to this red wine, but we also recommend you to drive up here in October, as the hills that surround the area are decorated with red-coloured vineyards.
Other inspirational spots for autumn are:
- Every single inch of Tuscany, literally, there’s no better season than autumn to visit Tuscany. We suggest you in particular to keep in mind the area of the famous Chianti, where many small villages organise festivals and fairs (”sagra” in Italian) to celebrate and taste local specialties, and above all, local wine. The romantic village of San Gimignano shouts out loud “la dolce vita” and deserves a special mention, since it’s one of the prettiest spots in Tuscany this time of the year.
- Perugia and Norcia (Umbria) are two little but precious gems, less known than cities such as Urbino (nearby, in the Marche region) but they deserve a visit as well! One of the reasons you should think about making a stop here is surely the vast range of seasonal specialties like hams, cheeses and truffles (but I’ll get back to those exquisite little thingies later).
5. Forest bathing is good for the soul and for the eyes: get your boots ready for hikes in the Alps and around lakes
There’s no better moment to plunge into nature than in the early autumn days in Italy, where the weather is usually fantastic (if compared to the sweltering heat of summer days).
This season completely transforms places making them even more special with the changing foliage, which ranges from bright yellow to orange, dark red and hazelnut brown from October on. Forests turn into colourful mantles and these dazzling splashes of colour like to play with the reflections of lakes. Imagine being on a boat in the middle of a lake whilst admiring the Alps reflected on the glossy water… Have I conquered you yet?
Put on your list of “things you cannot miss” the many hikes on the various trails at the foot of the Italian Alps, the so-called Dolomites. Woodlands and meadows seem like a surrealist painting.
6. International Film Festival Venice (Mostra del Cinema di Venezia)
Dulcis in fundo, we cannot not mention the Mostra del cinema di Venezia, where the famous Leone d’Oro’s are awarded to the best cinematography in the world. Here, if you visit Venice during the beginning of September, you are able to watch many high profile movies that are not yet being shown in cinemas around the world, and, if you are into celebrities, might see big names from the acting and cinema industry.
During the event the city becomes a sort of huge cinema, where multiple historical buildings and squares host the best movies in the world. Who wouldn’t want to visit Venice and see in advance the most exclusive movies in the world? What a romantic opportunity!
Here is a list of the main cinemas for you to check out:
- Palazzo del Cinema
- Sala Darsena
- Palazzo del Casinò
- Sala Giardino
7. Sail away with the Barcolana regatta
The Barcolana is a historical international sailing regatta that takes place every year in the Gulf of Trieste, my beloved hometown in north-eastern Italy, on the second Sunday of October. It is the biggest regatta in the world, and sailors from all over the world come over to compete! Do not worry though: anyone can in fact compete. All boats are welcome to join the race, no matter the size, the crew and the experience. Many triestinian families compete for the fun and the view of the bigger competing boats. If you are not one for sailing, you can still view the barcolana from the Karst Plateau, a highland on top of Trieste, where you can even sit in local restaurants and see the gulf being filled up with white sails!
It’s a time of great feasting for the city, the Rive (banks) are filled with docked boats, kiosks and stands with specialties for every palate and lots of music. In between the various stands you’ll see many crew members, tourists and and even just locals wandering around looking for some good triestinian and balkan food, hungry due to the salt and wind.
It might not be the average fall experience, but being born and raised in Trieste, when September arrives it means also that the Barcolana will shortly take place, it’s an event that has had a special place in my heart since I was a child, and it is unique in the world!
8. Alba white truffle Festival
Ah, the special and delightfully pungent aroma of truffles. Perfect for your pasta, pressed into oil, with your cheese or on your fries. The legendary white truffle festival is held in the very heart of Alba (Piedmont) in the Cortile della Maddalena. It’s open every weekend from early October to early December.
Here you’ll have the possibility to taste truffles and pair them with a special wine tasting. In the middle of the World Truffle Market lies the actual truffle market, where truffle hunters from all around the area bring their truffles for sale under glass tables. You can go up and look, but you can even buy some of them if you like.
9. Lucca Comics & Games
The Lucca Comics & Games is the most important Italian fair dedicated to comics, video games, fantasy imagery, mangas, anime, animation cinema, tv series, board games and roleplaying.
The most important figures in the industry, such as comic artists but also publishings and resellers, participate in the exhibition of the fair, which is held every year in the very heart of the Tuscan city of Lucca at the end of October.
It’s a moment of celebration for all fans, who also have the opportunity to meet artists in person and to participate in various seminars. Are you a comic fan? Would you dress up as Zelda or as Batman? It’s the perfect spot, and on that occasion I would suggest you also visit the city, which is very pretty during autumn.
10. Scenic train routes through stunning mountainous scenery to rugged seaside paths
Curious about breathtaking landscapes from another point of view? You’re lucky, because there’s train rides that will be a feast for your eyes throughout Italy.
Here’s some honourable mentions, even though we suggest you check all the possibilities by clicking here:
- The route from Milan to Bolzano will cut up through the alpine scenery of the Dolomites
- Verona to the Brenner Pass, which is very ancient since it was used since pre-Roman times. The Brenner Pass railway connects Venice to Munich and, well, I’ll put it this way: you’ll want to drop everything and move permanently to one of the many farmlands you’ll have fallen in love with and that you see all along the route. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you!
- The Centovalli railway, also called Vigezzina, is the route that connects the Italian region Piedmont to Switzerland. This train has also gained the reputation of “Foliage train” since the train cuts up through the Vigezzo Valley and offers a great sightseeing, thanks to which the valley is better known as the “Painters’ Valley”. The spectacular autumn colours of the forests make indeed them look like impressionist paintings.
For further information about trains and tariffs, we point you to the official website of Trenitalia, the national public train service.
11. Festival delle Sagre di Asti, Piedmont (Festival of the Festivals)
Are you into history? In Italy, history blends with everyday reality on a daily basis, due to the rich and ancient cultures that inhabited these lands. An example of this is the Festival delle Sagre (Festival of the Festivals).
Here the town of Asti comes to life, bringing you a parade with many historical mediaeval and pre-industrial clothing and a ton of local food (More than 500.000 dishes!). The focus here is on the life and culture of people that worked the fields and lived in the area of Piedmont, sharing food, traditions and excellent wine. It occurs every year on the second Sunday of September.
12. Visit Italy’s many art cities full of breathtaking architecture and museums
During the summer, across Italy the heat becomes too unbearable. While you think ducking into a museum would be a great escape - so did the hoards of other travellers and locals. Then these art galleries and museums are clogged with crowds too.
Autumn is the perfect remedy to that - the heat has dwindle down and with it, the crowds. The museums are more spacious again, and easier to roam around.
Local tip: every first Sunday of the month all museums are free, so seize this opportunity!
13. Sagra del Pistacchio di Bronte, Sicily (Pistachio’s festival)
Do you like pistachio ice cream? In the Sicilian town of Bronte, an entire festival is set up every late September/early October to celebrate the excellent nut and its plant that historically grows there, close to the Etna volcano!
Bronte therefore organises many events tied to local tradition, such as dances and historical exhibitions around the pistachio, the history of Sicily and of the local population. And of course loads of high quality locally produced DOP Pistachio Ice Cream. Loads of that. I promise.