VIAGGI – FAMILY TRAVEL
Italy is beautiful year round. But fall is the sweet spot for tourists if you ask me. Climate, cost, and crowd control come together to create the perfect trifecta. In fact, I like it so much that I got married in Italy in October 2008. Especially for those who have never been to the Boot, the fall provides the perfect setting to take in the magnificent history, eat up the divine cuisine, and live that dolce vita uninterrupted and without all those (other) annoying tourists around. I know you’re not one of those.
In southern Italy, where I tend to be, the autumn afternoons are hot enough for the beach and the mornings and evenings are crisp enough for a lovely stroll and eating al fresco (with a jacket and scarf). Gelato stands are still up and running. It is, in a word, delightful. You get to experience two seasons in one. What’s lovely about the fall is the vendemmia, the time of year when the grapes are harvested and wine making begins. Of course, Tuscany is famous for its vineyards, but even in the south, in places, such as my family’s native Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples, people celebrate the vendemmia. Often, you’ll find feasts in the piazza. Sometimes, the food, which could include anything from baked pasta dishes to grilled sausage, and the wine are free. You read that right. If you are lucky enough to have a friend who has grape vines, you may be invited to their home to help harvest the grapes (yes, they’ll put you to work if you’re able bodied) and enjoy a homemade meal afterward. In Ischia, the elementary school kids even go to the wine museum and get to kick it old-school and crush grapes with their feet.
Whatever you end up doing – lounging on the beach, strolling the streets with gelato in hand, or picking grapes (even if it’s just an excuse to sample the vino) – bring sunblock and a hat. The sun is strong during the day, and I’ve gotten burned even when there was a slight chill in the air. Also, pack that jacket and scarf because you will probably need it in the evening. If you visit the islands, this is especially important because the beach breeze and the dampness can chill you to your bone even if it’s 80 degrees F in the early afternoon. This mix of hot and cold – and some rain – brings with it an abundance of porcini mushrooms in a number of places. The natives usually know where to find them (and can tell if they’re the real deal or poison) and how to prepare them. You can try them at local restaurants in pasta, pizza, or even raw in a salad. Foodies won’t be able to resist.
What draws many adults – and even some families – to Italy in the fall is the economic advantage. I’ve traveled at the height of the summer and in the fall, and I’ll take fall every time. Airfare usually costs between $500 and more than $1,000 less than it does in the summer. While I never have to stay in a hotel (I stay with relatives), I know that these prices are lower, too. A scan of Travelocity or Expedia will reveal this as will all those relatives and friends of mine, who work in Italian hotels. Some families could never afford a trip to Europe, and these price differences can make the journey more budget friendly, no doubt.
Finally, with fewer people around, you can really enjoy what you’re seeing without the claustrophobia of the August crowds. You have to understand that many Western schools are off in July and August and just about all the natives (barring those with jobs in tourism) are off, too. Many Italians get at least half the month of August, if not the whole month, off for vacation. They swarm to the same tourist hot spots that us foreigners do. Populations of these popular places doubles or triples. It triples in Ischia, where we are. There’s actual people traffic on the road from where I stay to the beach. It’s wild. With kids back in school and the August siesta on steroids done, foreigners and natives alike are back to their routines and not going to be bothering you. That about sums up why an Italian vacation in the fall is truly a bit of paradiso on Earth.