Where to travel in October: five of the best destinations
October marks the start of autumn, with a bountiful crop of destinations to whet the appetite, for food, culture and wildlife travel. Here are five of our favourites for this month.
October heralds the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness: the perfect time for trips that embrace the natural world, its changing hues and abundant produce. From mushrooms to apples, pumpkins to olives, tours across the UK and Europe are ripe with foodie opportunities, whether encountered through a harvest or on a foraging course.
This is also a great time to be bagging the last beach break of the season while easy access destinations in Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East are still basking in sunshine and coastal resorts and seasonal ferries have yet to shut up shop. But if you're weary of sun and sand, October also comes with some tempting urban escapes. From Montreal to Manhattan, Boston to Baltimore, cities along North America's east coast are at their most atmospheric this month, rich with fiery autumn colours and Halloween festivities. And this is also the season when Europe's capitals celebrate notable arts events. The Café Budapest Contemporary Arts Festival, Prague Sounds classical music festival and the city's digital arts bonanza, Rome Art Week and the Reykjavík International Film Festival are just some of the bigger festivals taking over city streets and key cultural institutions across the continent.
And if that isn’t enough travel inspiration, check out our top five October destinations, below.
1. Churchill, Canada
Between late September and November, the shores of Hudson Bay are populated with polar bears, padding about the beaches waiting for the winter sea ice to form. And once it does, away they go, in search of the ringed seals and their pups. But until then, the 'polar bear capital of the world' sees these magnificent beasts amass in the hundreds, with the town of Churchill the most accessible place for close-proximity viewing. Wilderness trips to the Torngat Mountains on Canada’s remote Labrador Peninsula or aboard an expedition ship into the waters of the Northwest Passage offer adventure tourists the chance of sightings, but a flight from the UK via Winnipeg to Churchill puts travellers in place where sightings all but guaranteed right from the tundra town. Having long coexisted with the world’s largest land carnivore, Churchill offers a unique frontier Canada experience, with lots of choice for tours to track bears off-road in the wild.
Sustainable travel tip: Churchill Wild offers on-foot, low-impact tours from its three ecologically sensitive lodges along the shores of Hudson Bay. Frontiers North Adventures, a long-established, family-owned company specialises in sustainably minded tourism in Churchill and across Canada's north.
With its borders largely closed to tourism since 2020, Japan is once again beginning to welcome back international visitors. Having reopened to tourists on guided package tours in June, the country started allowing arrivals on non-guided package tours from 7 September in a move that rolled back some of the world's strictest Covid-19 border controls. From 11 September, travellers will once again be able to visit the country independently and without a visa.
And if there’s ever a season for travel to Japan, autumn is arguably prime time. Rivalling spring's cherry blossom season, October is when parks, gardens and mountains across the central islands and Alps are ablaze with colourful trees. This is a time for momijigari ('red leaf hunting') tours, with train rides in and around Kyoto a popular way to take in rural landscapes.
Sustainable travel tip: Walk Japan specialises in on-foot exploration across some of Japan's most beautiful rural and cultural destinations. Its low-impact tours, guided and self-guided, go off-the-beaten-track, often from village to village, staying in local guesthouses. These include tours that visit its community project in Kunisaki Peninsula in Kyushu.
3. New York, USA
Combine a city break during Halloween season with a tour upstate to explore hill country when it's vibrant with fall foliage and spooky festivals. Along with the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade which sees some 60,000 costumed revellers walk, dance and sing along Sixth Avenue from Canal Street to West 15th Street, Manhattan hosts a packed calendar of events in October including Open House New York, when sites across the city rarely open to the public throw open their doors, from rooftop gardens to design studios and historic houses. Meanwhile upstate, don't miss The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, where 7,000 artfully carved pumpkins light up the riverside near Van Cortlandt Manor in the Hudson Valley.
Sustainable travel tip: Skip the road trip in favour of a two-wheel tour. Making its debut last year, the Empire State Trail offers 750 miles of greenways, repurposed railway lines and bike paths that can, if you have the legs for it, take you from Manhattan to the Canadian border. We suggest the Hudson Valley Greenway section taking riders through the historic towns and waterfront villages along Hudson River, where general stores are replete with pumpkins and the tree-carpeted Catskill Mountains burn fiery orange to the north.
4. New Forest, UK
October is a fun month for fungi foraging, and it's also a great time to harvest walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts and damsons, along with coastal bounty that includes mussels plump from summer's feeding. The New Forest is a top autumn break spot; the UK's smallest national park packs in a hugely diverse range of landscapes, from marshy coast and heathland to its an ancient woodland populated by free-roaming ponies. For fungi alone, it's one of the most important sites in Britain, with over 2,700 different species calling the forest home. In autumn, the woodland is also home to hundreds of rootling pigs who are allowed free-range to clear the ground of acorns, beech mast and chestnuts that are harmful to livestock in a practice that dates back to the forest's founder, William the Conqueror.
Sustainable travel tip: Foraging is best done under expert guidance, to ensure nature's larder is raided sustainably and safely. The New Forest National Park has a 'no pick' policy for mushrooms in Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Permission is given for walks and educational tours with licenced fungi foray groups. Wild Food UK offers a wide range of foraging courses, from days out, to camping and wild food weekends and trips away to hotels with gourmet chefs. While Go Foraging offers guided walks in Hampshire, the West Country and Wales.
5. Normandy, France
It's peak apple harvest season, so why not make a celebration of it with a tour of Normandy's venerable cider houses, calvados cellars and Pommeau purveyors (calvados-fortified cider). Around 800 varieties of apple grow in this region of Northern France, where the fruit-based booze has been made since the 12th century. An easy itinerary follows the dedicated 25-mile-long Cider Route, where you can visit 16 producers of apple libations set against a backdrop of Norman cathedrals, ancient villages with half-timbered houses and some sobering Second World War coastal sites. And as this is France's dairy-producing heartland, you can expect lots of indulgently creamy dishes to fortify you en route, with a special shout out to local legends: camembert, Pont l’Eveque, Neufchatel and Livro.
Sustainable travel tip: Why not pop your bike on the ferry, and explore Normandy under pedal power? Normandy has four ports served by ferries from the UK with most operators including a bike in your luggage allowance. Or book with a tour company offering specialist cider route bike trips, such as Utracks or Cycling for Softies. Though you can reach Normandy by Eurostar via Gare St Lazare, it's got trickier to carry bikes across the Channel by train since the pandemic.
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