Beaver Pond, White Mountains (creative commons/howardignatius)
New England, more than any other corner of the United States, is at its best in the fall when a kaleidoscope of colorful leaves pop against pearly-white church steeples before gathering in piles below colonial homes and roadside stands, themselves piled high with crunchy apples and podgy pumpkins. The trip along the 100-mile White Mountains Trail, a national scenic byway, is undoubtedly one of the region's best, offering a loop tour through the forested hills past many of the area's most popular attractions. It also offers a chance to stand on top of New England at the summit of Mount Washington, the Northeastern United States' largest peak, with a height at 6,288 ft. (1,917m). From the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne to the paintings of Thomas Cole, the White Mountains have captured the imagination of generations, and much of what they first admired remains unchanged to this day.
Where to stay: Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa (Rates start at $129 per night.)
Best Travel Destinations For Fall 2012: Lavaux Vineyard Terraces, Switzerland
Lavaux Vineyard Terraces (creative commons/jtu)
If you're standing anywhere between Chateau de Chillon and the eastern outskirts of Lausanne and you look into the giant liquid mirror that is Lake Geneva, this is what you will see: A patchwork of tightly-tiered vines spread like golden butter across the undulating hills. The Lavaux Vineyard Terraces, a world heritage site that blankets some 19 miles (30 kilometers) of Lake Geneva's northern shore, has been in use since the Roman times, though the present vine terraces trace back to the 11th century when Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries controlled the region. Each autumn, hikers flock to Lavaux to walk and taste their way along the Grand Traversée, a nine-hour path through medieval villages and working vineyards. A tourist train carts around those who prefer more drinking and less walking. Either way, the panoramic views and earthy wines could enchant the most jaded of travelers.
Where to stay: Grand Hotel Suisse Majestic (Rates start at $175 per night)
Best Travel Destinations for Fall 2012: Darjeeling, India
The view from Darjeeling on a clear day (creative commons/Daniel Peckham)
The word "Darjeeling" may conjure up images of tea and toy trains but Darjeeling is best known to Indians as a Himalayan hideaway. Sure, the tea is world-famous and you can ride into town aboard a pint-sized locomotive (made famous by Wes Anderson's 2007 film, "The Darjeeling Limited"), but once you get there, you'll likely want to check out Everest in the distance. The problem is, Darjeeling sits at 7,407 feet (2,258m) above sea level and clouds often obstruct views of the world's tallest peak over in Nepal. A trip to Darjeeling between September and December, however, offers the best chance to take in the breathtaking panorama cloud-free while enjoying the golden sunrise over the world's most dramatic range.
Where to stay: Mayfair Darjeeling (Rates start at $179 per night)
Best Travel Destinations For Fall 2012: Munich, Germany
Oktoberfest in Munich (REUTERS)
It's a simple equation: big steins + big outfits = big party. About seven million people from around the world will drink over seven million one-liter mugs of beer at Oktoberfest this year, and while there will certainly be plenty of bierleichen -- Bavarian slang for a drunkard (which literally translates to "beer corpse") -- it's easy to forget that Oktoberfest is actually a cultural celebration for the whole family. In addition to all the booze, the 16-day festival includes carnival rides, roller-coasters, haunted houses, festival games and plenty of sausages and gingerbread cookies for all. So, strap on your lederhosen, squeeze into your dirndl and make sure to be in Munich between Sept. 22 and Oct. 7.
Where to stay: Hotel Laimer Hof (Rates start at $80 per night)
Best Travel Destinations For Fall 2012: Miyaluo Scenic Area, Sichuan -- China
Jiuzhaigou Valley, Sichuan (creative commons/rduta)
Thousands flock to the Fragrant Hill park in Beijing to watch the red maple leaves turn each October. In a distant corner of China, however, the Miyaluo Scenic Area boasts an area of vibrant red leaves that's 180 times larger. This immense forest dazzles visitors each fall who venture over to the Aba Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province from Chengdu some 160 miles (260 km) away. With crisp mountain air, distinctive ethnic customs and abundant tourist resources, the area is a welcome escape from city life.
Where to stay: InterContinental Resort Jiuzhai Paradise (Rates start at $200 per night)
Best Travel Destinations for Fall 2012: Paso Robles, California - USA
Cab Franc in the fall in Paso Robles (creative commons/dmuphotography)
The fall harvest is one of the busiest, most exciting times to visit wine country, with traditional grape stomping, wine-education and tastings aplenty. Nestled in the coastal mountains of central California halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles offers a more laidback experience with fewer noses in the air than its more renowned neighbor to the north, Napa. Each October, the region celebrates the fresh start of a new vintage with a Harvest Weekend replete with tours, tastings, winemaker dinners and special events. It's the perfect opportunity to unleash your inner oenophile and learn more about the process behind those noble reds.
Where to stay: Orchard Hill Farm Bed & Breakfast (Rates start at $230 per night)
Best Travel Destinations for Fall 2012: Churchill, Manitoba - Canada
Polar bears near Churchill, Manitoba (Travel Manitoba)
The sea ice on which polar bears live and hunt is melting at an astonishing rate, and scientists predict that two-thirds of the word's polar bear population could disappear by 2050. As the arctic heats up, Churchill, Manitoba, the so-called "Polar Bear Capital of the World," is fast becoming one of the last places to regularly spot the world's largest land-roving carnivores -- and October and November are your best bet to do so. Not only is this the best time to see the polar bears, but by November, the Northern Lights begin their evening show, and dog-sledding kicks into full gear. You will, however, need to plan ahead. Fall is Churchill's busiest season and there is limited accommodation in this remote northern outpost (only accessible by train or plane).
Where to stay: Polar Inn (Rates start at $104 per night)
Best Travel Destinations For Fall 2012: Oaxaca City, Oaxaca -- Mexico
Dia de los Muertos (REUTERS)
While Canadians and Americans celebrate Halloween, their neighbors south of the border partake in a much more somber affair: Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. The Mexican holiday is a time of remembrance when families honor their deceased loved ones by offering gifts and building altars at the cemetery. The beautiful colonial city of Oaxaca in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Southern Mexico is steeped in rich traditions, and the Day of the Dead is one of its most vibrant annual holidays. Though all-night vigils at the cemetery are a big part of the three-day event, comparsas, or carnival-like processions of masked revelers, are also a popular feature of Oaxaca's celebration, reflecting Mexicans' belief in the duality of life and death.
Where to stay: Parador San Miguel (Rate start at $90 per night)
Best Travel Destinations For Fall 2012: Bohuslän Coast, Sweden
Lobster Safari (VisitSweden)
If it's a gastronomy vacation you're after, look no further than Sweden's west coast. Each autumn marks the start of lobster season and, thus, "lobster safaris." If you're more into oysters, there's a safari for that too. Either way, the seafood along the Bohuslän Coast is known to be some of the best in the world and on a safari, you can travel out to sea, help haul up pots and prepare your catch before sitting down to savor it. Even if you don't partake in a trip at sea, top restaurants in Gothenburg and up and down the coast will craft their menus around the critters, making autumn one of the most exciting times to visit this part of Sweden and enjoy an age-old tradition.
Where to stay: Handelsman Flink hotel (Rates start at $500 per night, including food, accommodation, and lobster safari).
Best Travel Destinations for Fall 2012: Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia into North Carolina - USA
The Blue Ridge Parkway in the fall (creative commons/princess stand in the rain)
The Blue Ridge Parkway connects two of the U.S. East Coast's most fabled national parks: Shenandoah and Great Smokey Mountains. Widely regarded as one of the most scenic drives in America, this 469-mile (750km) stretch truly comes alive in October as the dogwoods, oak, birch and fir pop in shades of magenta, amber and tangerine. Though you'll encounter two regional hubs, Roanoke and Asheville, the vast majority of the route winds around rivers, above mountain gaps and through the dense forests of Appalachia. There's also no shortage of small town American charm to be found in the tiny hamlets along the way.
Where to stay: The Waynesville Inn, Golf Resort & Spa (Rates start at $140)
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