Most people agree on the many reasons to love fall: crisp air, apple picking, sweater weather and colorful leaves. And while there’s not much of a debate as to the perks of autumn, deciding on the best setting to experience its many enticing attributes is still up for discussion. Sure, you could do a New England road trip and hit a famed foliage spot or two, though that’s bound to be rather crowded and finding hotel rooms might prove difficult. Alternatively, it’s worth veering off the well-trodden fall tourist course to open up the possibility of visiting some places that really shine during shoulder season. For example, somewhere like Cape May, which peaks in the summer and really slows down in the winter, has a lot going for it when the crowds dwindle and the temperature still invites seaside strolls (albeit in sweaters). Mountain towns like Park City and Aspen have a similar appeal after the summer vacationers go home and before the ski bums pack into the gondolas.
If you’re into the idea of a fall getaway that doesn’t feel so, well, obvious, consider these incredible shoulder season destinations around the world.
Even more so than other Colorado mountain towns, Aspen doesn’t really have an off switch. Winter is a snow-covered cloud nine from the moment flakes first fall. Many consider spring to be low season, but it’s not like things screech to a halt then either. Adventurers and photographers come in droves in the summer and leave by early fall. Colorful trees and the crisp mountain air beckon travelers to plan a getaway to hike beautiful Maroon Bells and ride the scenic gondola for eye-popping panoramas. It’s also the perfect time to browse high-end stores like Kemo Sabe without hordes of black card-wielding shoppers getting in the way. And, of course, perks like reduced rates on notoriously expensive hotels and actually being able to snag a sought-after reservation shouldn’t be overlooked either.
Where to stay: The Little Nell is the only five-star ski-in/ski-out hotel in Aspen and part of the Relais & Châteaux portfolio. Travelers who opt to trade white powder for shades of red, orange and yellow don’t just have pretty views to look forward to but also truffle fries on the patio at Ajax Tavern, Dr. Barbara Sturm facials and annual hiking retreats in partnership with Sensei.
While we’d never say there’s a wrong time to visit Toronto, summer tends to be quite busy and balmy. Things start to slow down in September (with the exception of the two TIFF weekends) and continue that way through November. During shoulder season, this walkable lakeside city puts on a lovely show for travelers with colorful autumn leaves in Queen Park, the Toronto Music Garden and hiking areas just outside the urban sprawl. Besides leaf-peeping, seeing the emblematic sights, shopping along Queen Street and tasting the fantastic culinary scene — which ranges from an international smorgasbord in Kensington Market to Michelin-starred fine dining — are some of the best ways to fill fall days. After exploring and eating, treat yourself to a massage at one of the luxury hotel spas.
Where to stay: It’s not particularly hard to find a five-star overnight in Canada’s most cosmopolitan city, but none have the panache, pedigree or above-and-beyond service of the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto. The 55-story tower in the exclusive Yorkville neighborhood oozes discreet luxury with sophisticated skyline-view rooms and suites, gourmet cuisine and a state-of-the-art spa for rejuvenating treatments.
An international hub of culture, fashion and food, La Ville Lumière tops almost every list of must-see destinations in Europe and beyond. While travel to a major city like Paris doesn’t ever slow to a crawl, the cosmopolitan French capital does have a shoulder season — and it runs from September to November. During this period that’s characterized by cooler temperatures and cloudy skies, visitors can take advantage of more favorable room rates and slightly fewer tourists at major attractions like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre (though we still advise buying tickets in advance) as well as the manicured gardens and city parks with color-changing trees. Don’t let the overcast weather deter you from donning a trench coat and going for a walk along the banks of the Seine or grabbing a glass of wine at a buzzing sidewalk cafe.
Where to stay: For a five-star stay that embodies Parisian luxury in the heart of happening Saint-Germain-des-Prés, check into Hôtel Lutetia. Housed inside an iconic landmark building, it’s a well-heeled Left Bank homebase with elegant interiors, a sanctuary-like wellness spa and a splurge-worthy new Maison Taittinger x Lutetia Paris Champagne experience for fall.
Park City, Utah
Park City started as a silver mining hub. Over the years, it evolved into a winter hotspot that’s famous for its slopes and the Sundance Film Festival. This Utah mountain town also attracts many travelers in the summer. But as shoulder season (basically, the period when the chairlifts close) rolls in, the crowds begin to thin. That’s prime to take advantage of the heaps of outdoor adventure — from hiking to fly fishing— and scenic drives like Guardsman Pass with the prettiest backdrop. To that end, it’s rather surprising that Park City doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as Stowe or the Catskills when it comes to foliage because the colorful forested hillsides are nothing short of spectacular. If scheduling allows for a late September trip, you’ll be able to catch the last Park Silly Sunday Market of the year.
Where to stay: Park City brims with sprawling slopeside resorts. Rather bunk somewhere more boutique right in downtown? Look no further than Washington School House Hotel, a 12-key gem with a refined design (case in point: the opulent crystal antler chandelier and gilded mirror that accent the living room), thoughtful turndown amenities and the most delicious homemade berry jam ever.
London, United Kingdom
London is perhaps best known for its mile-long list of recognizable attractions — among them Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the London Eye — that consistently attract travelers. Storied landmarks aside, it’s also a wonderful walking city with distinctive neighborhoods to explore, from edgy Shoreditch to posh Mayfair. The birthplace of red phone booths also boasts many beautiful green spaces such as Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens that come alive in the fall when the foliage changes. Cozy pubs serving traditional British fare are the perfect place to warm up after gallivanting around in the gray all day. Feeling fancy? Make a reservation for afternoon tea at The Dorchester, which serves an elaborate spread of sweet and savory treats in the grand Promenade
Where to stay: A design lovers’ dream, Beaverbrook Town House fuses British charm with a hint of maximalist drama and Japanese gracefulness. Each of the 14 personality-filled suites is named after a London theater. Besides its impeccable aesthetic, this boutique bolthole supplies an authentic omakase experience as well as a privileged perch overlooking Cadogan Gardens and close to leafy Hyde Park.
Cape May, New Jersey
Cape May — aka New Jersey’s most family-friendly shore town — peaks in the summer. But when the kiddos go back to school, it’s not like life, err tourism, just stops all of a sudden. Pleasant temperatures for strolling along the boardwalk, hanging out at the beach and riding bikes extend through September. And even when the thermometer dips later in the season, it’s still not what we’d consider nippy. Many restaurants keep outdoor dining going with heat lamps. The 1859-built Cape May Lighthouse remains open. And it’s pleasant to wander the foliage-framed streets lined with historic Victorian homes. Beach Plum Farm hosts a harvest-driven dinner series in the barn. There are fun fall events like a tiny tot Halloween fest and ghostly red trolley tours as well as the Exit Zero Jazz Festival in mid-November.
Where to stay: A long-time favorite of families, couples and groups of friends, Congress Hall — which earned the nickname the Summer White House way back during Benjamin Harrison’s presidency — is a fantastic place to stay in the fall thanks to classic Americana vibes, a cozy bar for fireside cocktails, farm-to-table fare at Blue Pig Tavern and cute activities like face painting for kiddos.
This Stunning Boutique Hotel Offers a Taste of the English Countryside at One of London’s Most Iconic AddressesLive like a local at Beaverbrook Townhouse
Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara may have earned the nickname the American Riviera thanks to its beautiful beaches, but you certainly don’t need to contend with summer crowds to enjoy the sun-splashed lifestyle and photogenic attributes of this city on the central California coast. The surrounding Santa Ynez Mountains don’t just provide a scenic backdrop but also ample hiking trails. And as the temperatures cool down ever so slightly in the fall, it’s even more pleasant to get out into nature. The walkable downtown area has characteristic white stucco buildings with red-tile roofs and stylish boutiques. Restaurants cook up seasonal fare that spotlights the bounty of local producers. The Funk Zone Urban Wine Trail plays host to more than 20 tasting rooms to swirl Santa Barbara County pours.
Where to stay: Nestled in downtown Santa Barbara, the Kimpton Canary Hotel is a charming and convenient home just a five-minute walk from State Street with Spanish-style rooms, New American cuisine and an intimate atmosphere. In the autumn months, the rooftop calls guests to cozy up with a glass of local wine by the outdoor fireplace and appreciate the panoramic mountain views.
Loire Valley, France
The Loire Valley is one of the most distinguished regions for wine production in the world. After the harvest wraps up at the beginning of September, things begin to wind down. October and November tend to be even more quiet. That’s good news for travelers keen to skip the more congested months and do some quasi-solo exploration of the most iconic fairytale castles (don’t miss Château de Chenonceau and Château d’Amboise), wander through medieval villages, sip vin at the many renowned wineries, savor delicious food and indulge in grape-infused spa treatments. When it comes to soaking in the natural beauty of this more pastoral part of central France, the weather and scenery in autumn make it ideal for outdoor activities, whether that’s horseback riding or bike tours of the countryside.
Where to stay: Everything about leaf-peeping feels like it would be way better if it went down in a private treehouse designed by a contemporary artist that’s tucked away deep within 750 acres of forest. That’s the setup at Loire Valley Lodges, an acadian refuge with architecturally striking accommodations and activities aimed at fostering a deeper connection with nature (ahem, forest bathing and lyrical hikes).
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