Emily McDonnell, friend of i-escape and inveterate traveller, shares some of her favourite long weekend breaks for autumnal bliss.
We know we say it every year, but the summer has flown by! Trees are already ablaze with reds and browns, the nights are drawing in, and we’re reaching for an extra blanket in the evenings. But rather than begrudging the end of summer, get planning, because adventure is the perfect antidote to a dreary, grey autumn afternoon.
1 Olhão, Portugal
Why? Olhão is my little slice of heaven. I’ve been escaping to Portugal’s south-east coast for the past 10 years, and it is one of the few places I am physically unable to stay away from. The colourful tiled houses, winding cobbled streets, and rusty red brick fish market emit a rustic charm – strolling along the port front, you’ll pass fishermen grilling freshly caught sardines.
Board a ferry across the lagoon to visit the area’s crown jewel: the Ria Formosa’s white-sand beaches. My favourites are Ilha Deserta and Ilha da Culatra.
Why autumn? It is the perfect time to visit: the summer hordes have left, temperatures fall from the high-thirties to the mid-twenties, you can get a beach to yourself, and the best seats in the restaurants. Don’t miss Tasca O Galo and Pitéu da Baixa Mar.
Stay at: riad-chic Convento, which has a split-level terrace with beautiful views over the town’s whitewashed roofs to the Ria Formosa Natural Park.
2 Split, Croatia
Why? I’m often teased for being a history nerd when on holiday – if there are some ancient ruins to be explored, I will explore them. So, the exuberant city of Split is a magical playground for me. At its vibrant heart is Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site boasting some of the most impressive ancient Roman structures in Europe.
The Dalmatian Coast is naturally breath-taking, too. Take a trip to the Krka National Park, just an hour away, and swim in its impressive waterfalls.
Why autumn? The autumn means the yacht, Game of Thrones and island festival crowds have all but vanished, leaving the marble cobbled streets quiet for exploration.
Why? Ok, so I might be biased on this one. I moved to Germany’s capital at the start of the year and it’s one of my favourite European cities. I love it in every season – it may not be pretty, but it has captured my heart.
My top tips would be to start the day with brunch at Distrikt Coffee or Roamers, then take a stroll across Tempelhofer Feld (Berlin’s former airport). After that, meander through the Tiergarten park, climb the Berliner Cathedral, and spend a few hours relaxing and warming yourself at Vabali spa (be prepared to embrace German sauna values…). End your day with sunset drinks at Klunkerkranich, a super-cool (and somewhat hidden) rooftop bar.
Why autumn? It brings out the city’s romantic side; its many parks are full of colourful trees, the spicy smell of glühwein starts wafting through the streets, and misty mornings make the grand buildings even more atmospheric.
Why? Simply put, the Basque Country is bliss. The area boasts the perfect combination of dramatic landscapes, spectacular food, and inspirational culture. Fly to Bilbao and spend a day or two exploring the town’s narrow streets and hip bars. At the Guggenheim, I became totally mesmerised by Anselm Kiefer’s The Renowned Orders of the Night (Die berühmten Orden der Nacht).
After getting your culture fix, head north to San Sebastian for long windy walks along the town’s golden sandy beaches. Be sure to fill up on pintxo while you’re there. La Mejillonera, is a simple, no nonsense kind of place serving fresh mussels, calamari and patatas bravas.
Surfers, this place is for you. The waves are excellent, though the sea is very cold – warm up with a glass of local vino afterwards.
Why? Milan is awe inspiring. It effortlessly blends the historic and the modern, food and fashion, business and culture. It’s a living, breathing, energetic city that demands frequent pasta and aperol breaks. Don’t miss its architectural crowning glory – the fabulous Duomo. Its ‘frenzy of flying buttresses’, 135 spires and astonishing 3,200 statues make it one of the world’s most impressive Gothic cathedrals. I’d also suggest packing your credit card as it’s hard to not pick up some chic styles for the coming winter season.
Escape the city for a day and head to Lake Iseo, an hour’s drive east. The quaint lake-side town is packed with mouth-watering eateries and waterfront bars, plus you might get catch a dramatic lightning show over the rugged mountain tops.