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15 July 2016

La Dolce Vita: Autumn In Italy

September is the loveliest month to visit Italy as it marks the arrival of Autumn: the peak season for food and wine across the country. As well as the gorgeously earthy dishes splashed across menus, visiting just outside of the high season will also mean fewer crowds and cooler temperatures. You might even bag cheaper flights and accommodation as the summer holiday period draws to a close.

Here are some of the very best things to do at this eagerly anticipated time of year…

Hannah Frances is a travel writer, photographer and founder of art and travel platform Palette. She is currently based in Urbino, Italy.

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New Wine And The First Olives In Tuscany

Italian Olives

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September sees wine lovers flock to Tuscany in a fevered rush of Chianti. The vineyards are heavy with fruit and there’s excitement in the air as vendemmia (grape harvest) begins. The renowned Chianti classico region is home to some of Italy’s most prestigious wines. For wine tasting, head to a traditional enoteca (wine bar), discover the area’s celebrated restaurants which pair the region’s wines with complementary local dishes, or arrange an appointment to visit a winery (some accept drop-ins, but its always best to call ahead). Many estates are family run and offer free tours and tastings. There are also organised tours which take small groups to some of the area’s most revered winemakers with a stop for lunch. Remember to plan ahead and book a nearby hotel to make the most of your experience.

Although the olive season is much later – from November – the harvest in Tuscany and more northerly regions can take place as early as September to avoid being hit by an early frost. The under ripe fruit produces less oil, making Tuscan olive oil quite a rare elixir by the standards of a country with uninterrupted access to the stuff. The under ripe olives also give Tuscan olive oil its distinctive peppery flavour.

Archaeological Road Trips In Sicily

Temple Of Concordia, Agrigento, Italy

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It’s hard to properly explore Sicily’s ancient sites under the heat of the summer sun. Temperatures are much easier to handle in September with a comfortable daily average of 25 degrees. Rent a car in Palermo – Sicily’s capital and largest city – and circumnavigate the coast, taking in the Doric Temple at Segasta and the Temple of Concord in Agrigento en route to Catania, which lies on Sicily’s east coast in the shadow of Mount Etna.

September is the month of wine festivals, and Sicily is no exception. The Greeks first planted grapes on the slopes of Mount Etna around 700bc, where winemaking has continued ever since. The dry red and white Etna wines have become more fashionable in recent years, popping up on fancy wine lists around the world but are still comparatively affordable, so arrange a vineyard tour to meet knowledgable winemakers and taste some fantastic wines on the slopes of Sicily’s great volcano.

Grape Picking In Veneto

Vineyards in Veneto, Italy

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If you are more partial to a dry white Soave than a ruby Chianti, head to the region of Veneto for harvest. There are a handful of vineyards where you can help with the grape picking in return for free tastings and discounts on bottles – it’s a fantastic way to become completely immersed in centuries-old Italian culture and tradition. Make sure to stay local so that an early rise can lead you on to your next adventure – Venice.

A trip to Veneto wouldn’t be complete without stealing a few days in Venice. In August, most Venetian residents leave the island and the city becomes an odd sort of tourist’s Disneyland for the month. Local life picks up again in September so you can appreciate the authentic side of Venice – albeit slowly dwindling. You can also catch the tail end of the Venice Film Festival and the world-famous Regatta Storica at the beginning of the month.

When In Rome?

Wide view of Colosseum of Rome

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September is a great time of year to visit Rome. The humidity and heat of the summer has subsided along with the swarms of tourists around the city’s main sights, meaning shorter queues and a more relaxed visit of the Pantheon, Vatican and Roman Forum. Open air attractions such as the Trevi fountain are always more peaceful at night, so take an after-dinner walk and enjoy the city’s most beautiful fountains between quiet streets and cool night air.

Celebrity Truffles In Piedmont

Piedmont's Truffles

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Across Italy, the arrival of Autumn is associated with many different foods, and in Piedmont all eyes (and snouts) are fixed on the elusive white truffle – tartufi bianchi. Found between the roots of trees near the city of Alba, the white truffle of this area has become one of the most revered ingredients in the world. During harvest, the International White Truffle Festival of Alba sees market stalls piled with the delicacy, which are celebrated with rigour.

The distinctive white truffle can also be found in Tuscany, Umbria and Marche, though the most expensive are to be found in Piedmont. The region is also home to the celebrated Barolo and Gavi wines, fine meats and cheeses and a “slow food” movement with international acclaim, so it’s fair to say that you could find yourself in a gourmet’s paradise in Piedmont this September.

Cool Air Along The Cinque Terre

Manarola, Cinque Terre

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As the summer cools off, many of the country’s beautiful hiking trails are more pleasant to climb, and Cinque Terre offers some of the most scenic routes in Italy. Take the coastal trail from Riomaggiore to Monterosso for jaw-dropping views across the Ligurian bay, passing through the string of five colourful fishing villages (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza,Monerosso) perched on rocky promontories along the coast.

The whole hike takes around six hours – make a week of it and spend a night in each village on the route, enjoying some of Italy’s best seafood, gelato and diving spots along the way. The region’s gorgeous beaches are less crowded in September and the sea is warm from months of summer sun – a perfect respite from a day of cliffside traversing.

Autumn Colours In Lombardy

Lake Como in Lombardy, Italy

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The native Lombardy poplars are a sight to behold as they burst into vivid colour across the countryside. With its flaming red and golden tones, you’d be hard pressed to find a more picturesque Autumn landscape.

Enjoy your Autumn antics in Italy, buon viaggio!

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