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Red Autumn Leaves (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, National Geographic)

14 Favorite Fall Destinations

The world turns and seasons change—summer has passed and led us into gentler autumn with its changing leaves and more rigid schedule. The kids are back in school, and work is revving back up again, but there is no such thing as a bad time to go wandering.

Next month, National Geographic will release their beautiful (and big!) book celebrating all Four Seasons of Travel. Back in June, I listed Sixteen Summer Destinations I Love, but now that September is here, I present to you Fourteen Favorite Fall Destinations. Once again, my autumn highlights reveal my own northern hemisphere perspective and these recommendations only include destinations where I have personally traveled in the fall.

Talbot County, Maryland
An hour’s drive from my home in Washington, DC, Maryland’s Eastern Shore is a non-fussy fix for my bucolic whims. Every year, come fall, I head out to this jigsaw piece of Chesapeake shoreline to taste the autumn fullness. The painted town of St. Michael’s deserves all its accolades (eat or stay at The Inn at Perry Cabin), but for real flavor, I prefer Tilghman Island—home to the world’s best crab cakes. To see birds, I go thirty minutes south to the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County.

Flúðir, Iceland
Of all my trips to Iceland, my favorite took place in late September, during the “round up” or Réttir, when Icelanders return to their family farms out in the country. Following ancient tradition, they ride their horses up into the mountains and then drive down the sheep from their summer pasture. The process takes about a week and ends with a day of fun work where everyone chips in to separate out the individual herds. Visitors are expected to share in the work and then dish up a bowl of the fresh lamb stew.

Parc National du Mont Mégantic, Québec
A few miles from the Maine border, the forests of the Canadian Appalachians just burn up with beautiful autumn colors. By night, the park turns into one of the best (protected) spots for night sky viewing. By day, the surrounding Eastern Townships epitomize the charm of New England (in New France) with antique shops, one-room schoolhouses and church-steepled towns. I can’t wait to get back here.

Isle of Mull, Scotland
Once upon a September long ago, I hitchhiked the length of Scotland and ended up in the back of a pickup truck filled with firewood, soaring up the long hills on the Isle of Mull. I walked through miles of thick forest, along seaweed-strewn beaches and over some high crags before settling into the pastel village of Tobermory. My next lift was a rowboat to Iona, which might be the most sacred site in Scotland. Go there.

Rhône Valley, France
While Burgundy gets all the attention (and the tourists), my heart lies in Lyon and the surrounding valleys of the Rhône. I once lived about two hours away, and come fall, this is where Beaujolais happens. My favorite village is Fleurie, where folks still buy their wine in oak barrels to bottle up at home. Come hungry—the Rhône is where picky French diners come to dine, either at any random corner bistro or at world-standard gourmets like Trois Gros in Roanne or at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon.

Kyoto, Japan
Nowhere else in Asia do the individual seasons shine like they do in Kyoto, but of the four, the Japanese fall is my favorite. I love the brilliant red maples and the autumn stillness found among the quiet Zen gardens in dozens of different temples. I dream of returning one day and spending the whole of October here.

Okavango Delta, Botswana
I love Botswana for the people and for the amazing animals in the Moremi Game Reserve. Come October, the Okavango gets very warm (over 100º F) and very dry, which forces all the wildlife to congregate around a few sparkling water holes. That’s precisely why I like to visit now, because there is so much more to see right before the rains come—huge herds of elephants, and hundreds of hippos and giraffe and so many terrific African birds. It’s also a great time to see lions since the long summer grass has faded and died back.

Mayaro Bay, Trinidad
Trinidad is the exception to the rest of the Caribbean—a big island with a big culture, Trinidad avoids much of the grey and rainy hurricane season and from September to mid-October, they experience Petit Carême (“Little Lent”)—a natural break in the rainy season filled with aimless sunny days. Mayaro Bay is the longest stretch of sandy beach in the country and it’s pleasantly wild and un-manicured. I also love the island cities—if you’re in Arima or Port-of-Spain, be sure to eat Doubles from a street vendor.

Buenos Aires, Argentina
BA is fine any time of year, but the locals love October best—and so do I. The air is warm and clear and the jacaranda trees paint the city purple. I never have any agenda when I’m in BA—I just do what everyone does down there: eat great food, stay up all night, dance, and enjoy the art and architecture.

Rangali Island, Maldives
I am the first to admit that I am spoiled by so much travel, and the place that spoiled me most was the Maldives—specifically the outstanding resort on Rangali Island. October is a blissful time on this equatorial outpost and the scuba diving is otherworldly (which is why I went). If you dream of glossy magazine beaches, this is the place.

Transylvania, Romania
What better place to enjoy Halloween than Transylvania? Aside from the Dracula rigmarole, central Romania turns into a kind of warm and rustic painting in autumn, with tall haystacks and full barns and tiny Balkan towns that breathe a heavy gothic air. All around, it’s a beautiful and mysterious land with convivial locals who won’t suck your blood, but will try and get you drunk on Țuică (plum liquor).

Western Kentucky 
I once vacationed on Lake Cumberland and discovered the heavenly slice of America from Louisville to Owensboro. Down here, the local accent sounds like melted butter, and on any fall weekend you’ll catch live bluegrass music at some kind of festival that typically involves pumpkins, cider, red hot barbecue, and a corn maze (or all of the above).

New Iberia, Louisiana
There’s a reason I nominated New Iberia for one of Forbes’ 15 Prettiest Towns in America—this is true Cajun Country, with bayous and gators and beautiful old plantation homes. Visit the Tabasco factory and the Rip Van Winkle Gardens, still heavy with Spanish moss—and be sure to grab at bite at Victor’s Cafeteria.

Tasmania
September is spring in Tassie and the flowers explode across Australia’s island state. Even better, all the crazy parrots and cockatoos start screeching for the coming summer and it’s a happy noise. Though it’s still cooler and wetter than you’d imagine the rest of Australia to be, its beauty is staggering. If you’re outdoorsy, don’t miss a multi-day hike in Maria Island National Park.

So there they are–my fourteen favorite fall destinations. Now please share yours with me! Where do you like to travel in the fall? Please write it in the comments or tweet it to @WheresAndrew. Happy Autumn!