It’s October, a highly anticipated month as summer settles and autumn abounds. But here I sit, ever so patiently in Madrid… waiting, waiting, waiting… for those leaves to pop. Some have started their ritual, warm tones emerging amongst the jagged peaks of the Sierra Norte, creating that gorgeous scene I crave. But others remain stubborn, steadfast in their hold on summer’s warmth.

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Budapest, Hungary

I’m told to relax, assured that fall is on its way and at its finest in November. It will be short, but sweet. While temperatures still linger close to 80, I’m promised that in just a few weeks we will all welcome the frosty chill of fall. And isn’t that the best? The cool wind that rushes past you, gracing the back of your neck while the rays of the sun still comfort. It’s the shift that fall is supposed to be. The gradual ushering in of winter, a time to reflect on the past year and a time to let go.

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Bavaria, Germany

But must I wait? I think about the past two years in Budapest, where seasons ran on schedule, long and distinct. So I sit here, tapping my fingers impatiently as the harsh sun still burns, and I dream of fall. I reminisce of autumns past, spent in Budapest, Bavaria, Southern Poland, and (the best-kept-secret) Slovakia.

Budapest

 

Budapest is a large modern city, but it’s easy to feel lost in time there. The fall foliage perfectly complements harshly stained, deteriorating building facades, and contrasts with perfectly polished, grandiose architecture. Patterned domes, proud spires, intricate terraces, and protective gargoyles, all watch from above as people walk briskly, wrapped in scarves, through the crisp and slightly smoky air.

 

Sprawling green spaces like Margaret Island and City Park offer quintessential autumn strolls, the satisfying sound of crunched leaves achieved with each step. The ultimate celebration of an urban-charmed fall.

Bavaria

 

My insatiable craving for high altitude and mountain air meant bypassing Munich and hopping the first train to Mittenwald, perhaps the most charming Bavarian town in existence.

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Top of Karwendelspitze in Mittenwald, Germany

The weather was fall perfection: warm with the sultry glow of harvest sunlight. Each day beckoned us outside. We braved the famous Leutaschklamm Gorge, which criss-crosses in and out of Austria. We pushed ourselves through forests and fields, and up hills, all gifting delicious views of the town and valley below. The sound of clinking cow and sheep bells seemed to come from every direction. And we even splurged on the gondola, where we romped around the peaks of the Alps and watched the sun melt into the horizon below.

Poland

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Krakow, Poland

Our overnight train rattled to a stop, greeted by muted pre-dusk skies. A hint of pink whispered from the horizon, but a coolish gray above told a different tale of morning drizzle. Umbrellas up, we trudged into the Old Town of Krakow. I’ve never been more in awe of a city, especially with its large circular park circumventing the historic center and enormous trees dropping the biggest leaves I’ve ever seen. The history, the people, the food, the architecture… it’s a place to be experienced, especially during the shifts of autumn.  

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Zakopane, Poland

We escaped Krakow to find the mountains that grace Poland’s southern border, the Tatrys. We based ourselves in Zakopane, a bit glitzy and touristy, but it didn’t seem to matter. The sun was at its autumn best, gleaming through blue skies and tall trees, a gentle spotlight on a quiet week. We traversed the hills, finding old churches along the ridge and gazing down at sprawling pastures filled with cows. As the only two in sight, we opted to take the ski lift down, which felt like a fairytale as we whizzed past trees so close, we could almost reach out and grasp their branches.

 

Slovakia

We left Poland via Slovakia, which resulted in one of my favorite accidental travel memories (you can read about it here). The road was filled with dramatic twists and turns through the Slovak side of the Tatrys, which left me in tears. I hadn’t realized how homesick I was for the mountains, but these snowcapped giants adorned in autumn colors did the trick.

 

Slovakia truly is a best-kept-secret, with steep mountains in the north and national parks in the south, and cities like Bratislava to the west and Košice to the east. And come autumn, the entire nation bursts with color in every imaginable shade. The nature is diverse and goes beyond the usual scenes, adding in a few abandoned castles, that seem to erupt from the hillsides.       

 

 

So, what’s most tempting to you? Where would you like to find fall: Budapest, Bavaria, Poland, or Slovakia?

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5 European Destination for Fall

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