Five alternative autumn breaks

Desperate for a last blast of pre-winter warmth but want some options if the sun doesn't shine to order? Try these short-hop destinations with a difference

Five alternative autumn breaks
By Yolanda Zappaterra

Follow in the footsteps of Aldous Huxley…

… And Queen Victoria, Roubert Louis Stevenson, Edith Wharton, Manray – anyone who showed an interested in exploring the less obvious pleasures of the Cote D'Azur, really. At Hyères, in the Var region of Provence, a winning mix of culture, art and design make for some tempting draws away from the beauties on the beach to a series of architectural beauties sited along palm-lined streets. Much of the architecture – including palaces, opulent Belle Epoque houses and oriental-style villas – is down to the area’s Victorian-era popularity with the Brits on the grand tour, who were serviced by everything from a tiny Anglican church straight out of ‘Miss Marple’ to tea rooms, botanical gardens and an English library. The town still has all the inimitable old-fashioned charm of that era, and a sweet medieval quarter too, whose twisting and turning old streets and lanes stretch up the hillside to what must be one of the most interesting houses in the town, the Villa Noailles. It was built between 1924 and 1932 by Robert Mallet-Stevens for preposterously rich art-lovers Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, who entertained the likes of Manray, Giacometti, Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais here. With its distinct Bauhaus/Cubist/De Stiijl motifs, plus a 33ft indoor pool with picture windows retracting into the floor, an indoor squash court and an outdoor bedroom with a hanging bed, a tour of the site – now an arts centre hosting a permanent exhibition dedicated to its founders and patrons – is a must. Five minutes back down the hill, Edith Wharton's house is now a government building, but the gardens are lovely and free to visit. When the sun does shine, there's 400km of coast with 250km of coastal paths taking in a double isthmus running to the Presqu'île de Giens peninsula, the Vieux Salins salt marshes and the island national park Port-Cros, where divers and snorkellers can find underwater signs telling them the names of the abundant fish and marine life on offer in and around the underwater caves here. If it gets really hot, tiny neighbouring Le Levant has a nudist beach.

Getting there: There are regular flights to Toulon-Hyères Airport from London Stansted or City.

Pizza alfresco, anyone?

The Amalfi Coast is always a good post-summer bet, but this year sees an event that should prove a particular draw for gastrophiles. As part of a two-month festival of events called 'Journey through the Senses', a number of restaurants will be composing menus and wine lists inspired not just by the abundant produce of the region, but also its heritage, history, art and culture. Cream of the crop are likely to be the 'art on a plate' menus being devised by three of the region's most renowned chefs, who will be offering diners their own personal interpretation of the figurative arts. As you might expect from a region whose main cultural attractions are those dating back to the Romans and Greeks, there are some cultural heavyweights throwing their bulk behind the project – the  Museo Correale di Terranova in Sorrento, the Soprintendenza Archeologica of Pompeii and the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca in Rome are all taking part. At the first of those, Peppe Aversa, chef at  Michelin-starred Il Buco in Sorrento, is setting up a pop-up in the ground floor rooms of museum with dishes inspired by the artworks housed over its three floors. One of the best provincial museums in Italy, this stately building houses 17th- and 18th-century paintings from the Neapolitan school, collections of Capodimonte and Sèvres porcelain, an extensive collection of Sorrento inlaid woodwork from the 19th century, and of course a swathe of archaeological finds. This being the land of such big tenor favourites as 'O Sole Mio,' music gets a look-in too – Paolo Esposito will be offering music lovers and fans of Italian tenor Enrico Caruso menus inspired by the world of opera at his restaurant in Sorrento, called, of course, Caruso.

Getting there: Easyjet flies from London to Naples daily.

Fungi to be with

Whereas we associate autumn with taking tinned fruit to school for ropey harvest festivals, across the Channel it’s all about luscious fruits like figs, pomegranates and olives, and the jewel of all autumn harvests – truffles. Most people associate Italy and France with these delights, but among gastro-tourists and foodies, the north Croatian region of Istria is just as well known – not least because the world’s largest truffle was found here (1.31kilos, found in the Motovun forest, since you ask). You’re unlikely to find such gems yourself, but Livade, Motovun and Buzet are at the heart of the action, and worth a visit for a range of truffle festivals in October and November. If you’ve deep enough pockets, Zigante in Livade has a menu that features truffles in every dish. 
If not, you can try a bowl of delicious Istrian fuži with truffles (a traditional Istrian pasta) almost anywhere in the region, but we’d suggest the medieval Humska Konoba in Hum. Not just because it has such a cute name, and not just because it’s the world’s smallest town, but because it’s both those things, and ridiculously pretty to boot. Finish your meal with a glass of the local schnapps for a heavenly end to proceedings. Then, if there's still time and the sun’s shining, the largest peninsula in the Adriatic offers medieval villages dotted with cypress trees, vineyards and olive groves and more than 500 kilometres of Mediterranean coastline.

Getting there: Ryanair flies to Trieste, just north of Istria, from London Stansted.

Turkish delights

Come November, the coastal town of Fethiye is likely become a top Turkish go-to destination. Why? Because it features in ‘Skyfall’, the new James Bond movie, and once the cinema-going hoardes see its stunning bays, pine forests, impossibly blue seas and perfect scattering of islands it will prove irresistable. It’s rammed in summer by Brits in the know, but visit in October and you’ll find an attractive and quiet port town dating back to 500BC, stuffed with works of art and historical finds from the Persians, Lycians, Carians and Romans. All around the town are perfect sandy beaches and islands accessible by little boats from the port, October highs reach 26 degrees and the water temperature never dips below 16 degrees, but if there’s a wintery nip in the air the Fethiye Museum is a treasure trove of ethnographic and archeological finds. And don’t miss the massive Tomb of Amyntas, built in 350BC by the Lycians and featuring some beautiful carvings and an interior that’s the size of a temple.

Getting there: Monarch flies regularly to Dalaman from Gatwick and Luton, Easyjet flies from Stansted airport.

Biker grove

Spain’s third city, Valencia, is often overlooked in favour of Barcelona, but it’s a gorgeous place to spend a few days, with huge sandy beaches right in the city and a wealth of great activities and attractions. And being 180km south of Barcelona, in October it’s still warm enough to sunbathe and enjoy the city’s leisurely pace, preferably on a hire bike so that you can make the most of the 8km-long city park set in the old river bed and its fantastic architecture, which includes 17 architecturally diverse bridges and the belle epoche Eixample area, and, at the eastern end, a 1990s grand millennium project that must surely have made Jacques Chirac green with envy: the Cuidad de las Artes y las Ciencias. This eye-popping arts and science park, conceived and designed by Santiago Calatrava, houses an interactive museum, Europe’s biggest marine park/aquarium, a music venue, a planetarium, giant pools and fountains, terrace cafes and playgrounds. By November it’s cooling down, but sunny days still make exploration of all these and more a real delight, and this November there’s the added bonus of the Valencian Community MotoGP Grand Prix, taking place from Nov 9-11 at the Ricardo Tormo de Cheste Circuit, just 30 km away from Valencia’s city centre. For €50 you can purchase a three-day ticket to the Grand Prix, or for an extra €22 add in all the attractions at the City of Arts and Sciences.

Getting there: Easyjet and Ryanair fly daily to Valencia from Gatwick and Stansted respectively.

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