Written by Pete Nosal | Condé Nast Traveler
To many, the autumn months in New England, where amber leaves blanket farmhouses and covered bridges, are quintessentially fall. It’s easy to forget that the season isn’t unique to a small corner of America, though. Here are the most spectacular settings around the world to catch the changing leaves.
1. Bran Castle, Transylvania, Romania
The region of central Romania known as Transylvania is shrouded in lore. Home to foggy hills, medieval wooden churches, and quaint hamlets, it is also the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula. Vlad’s fortress home, Bran Castle, also known as Dracula’s Castle, lies atop a smoky hill in the middle of this eerie landscape. In autumn, the palette of the surrounding countryside is all chocolate browns and oranges, and the hush of dead leaves in the air adds to the spooky atmosphere.
2. Bukhansan Mountain, Seoul, Korea
The sprawling concrete landscape of Seoul isn’t the first place you’d expect to encounter beautiful foliage, but Bukhansan National Park offers an amazing natural getaway just north of this bustling metropolis. Bukhansan has plenty of hiking trails ranging in all levels of difficulty through crisp forests, across mountain streams, past temples canopied in the colors of fall, and up to granite peaks offering spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the manmade peaks of the city below.
3. Duoro Wine Region, Portugal
Sheltered from the harsh Atlantic winds by the Marao and Montemuro mountains, the Douro Valley is one of Portugal’s main wine regions, and a unique place for fall foliage. Rather than large trees, the hills here are covered in neat rows of terraced vineyards. In the fall, the vineyards rise like colorful stairways from the ambling river below. Stroll along the rolling hills in the mild autumn air and top your day off with a bottle of the region’s finest vinho.
4. Fragrant Hills, Beijing, China
The Fragrant Hills are an imperial garden in northwestern Beijing that dates back to the 12th century. There are trails through the forest that lead to manicured gardens and traditional buildings. Autumn is the best time to visit as the crimson leaves of smoke trees pop amidst the pines and ignite the landscape.
5. Hraunfossar Waterfalls, Husafell, Iceland
Iceland has a primal, almost otherworldly beauty to it and, contrary to what you might think, is a land where the four seasons are on display. In a country of epic vistas, one of the most stunning places to observe fall is Hraunfossar. This series of waterfalls stretches for nearly a kilometer, spilling over the giant steps of an ancient lava field into a turquoise glacial river, where bushy trees paint the horizon hues of red, yellow, and orange.
6. Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany
The German state of Bavaria, famous for bringing Oktoberfest to the world, cannot go unmentioned on this list, and the place to appreciate this autumn royalty is Neuschwanstein Castle. Appearing as if it’s carved directly from the rugged hill it sits atop, Neuschwanstein is jaw dropping on its own, but is even more spectacular during the autumn months. The castle’s white facades and spires rise above the garnet red leaves of the surrounding trees, making it obvious why it was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
7. Summer Garden, St. Petersburg, Russia
St. Petersburg, known as the Venice of the North, is famous for its gorgeous architecture and alluring parks. The most popular is the Summer Garden, which ironically enough, is the best place to experience the seasons changing in the city. Walk under sheets of golden foliage along the Fontanka river walkway or sit on a bench as the colorful leaves dance among the garden’s marble statues: both are unforgettable ways to enjoy this beautiful city.
8. Takachiho Gorge, Miyazaki, Japan
Japan offers many compelling places to view the foliage, but Takachiho Gorge in Miyazaki Prefecture may be the best. Rent a rowboat and cruise through the celadon waters framed by steep rock faces, past misty waterfalls, and under marigold leaves on the trees above. The landscape here is spectacular, the sides of the rock walls go from vertical and smooth to horizontal and jagged and present a natural timeline of the region’s geology.