In northeastern Italy, in a mountain range slid neatly between Austria and Switzerland, there is an overlooked corner of Italian wine country. It does nothave the lush, easy feeling of Tuscany’s gentle hills. Surrounded by craggy peaks, its hills and mountainsides are covered in low terraces draped with curling vines, grapes hanging heavily toward the soil. Apple orchards reach out across the valleys, lining the roads that connect the villages tucked between folds of spiraling dolomite towers. There is no wrong time to visit this area. Its beauty never fluctuates; each season only enhancing different features. The winter transforms it into a skiing mecca, the summer attracts hikers, climbers, and cyclists, but it’s the autumn season with its numerous food and wine festivals that highlights the bounty of this small corner of Italy and all it has to offer.
Split neatly between three regions in northeastern Italy, the Dolomites spread out across Alto Adige, Trentino, and Veneto. Often overshadowed by some of Italy’s more famous wine regions, this corner of Italy is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in Europe. Home to Strada del Vino (or Weinstraße in German), a “wine road” that connects over a dozen towns at the heart of the area’s wine production, the region’s dramatic landscape, numerous recreation opportunities, diverse wines, and Michelin-starred restaurants make it the perfect travel destination for wine and sports enthusiasts alike. There is no better way to explore this region than by renting a car and making your way along the wine road from either Innsbruck or Venice, and one of the best times to do this is in the fall. Here’s why:
The high season for the Dolomites runs from late June through the end of August for hikers and cyclists and then switches over to a full-throttled ski season from December to April. While November can be a little dreary, September and October means relatively nice weather and fewer tourists. The mountains are still free of snow so you can access the trails and have a little more elbow room while you hike since there aren’t as many people to share the trails with. Pricing for hotels and activities tends to be cheaper as well.
During the fall, the larch tree needles turn yellow and as the shadows become longer, the light transforms and casts a rich golden orange and rosy pink over the dolomite rock formations. The landscape of the Dolomites is always stunning, but the fall colors and light make it even more breathtaking and perfect for photography.
Food and Wine Festivals
Fall in Europe means a lot of beer, wine, and harvest festivals. If you’re visiting Alto Aldige in November, be sure to drive up to the resort town of Merano for the annual Merano Wine Festival which showcases around 300 producers from Italy as well as as some of the best culinary delights Italy has to offer. If you’re visiting in early September, don’t miss the 3-day Ladin Festival in Canazei. Celebrating the end of the summer, this festival–which includes music, food, clothing, and crafts–will give you a taste of the Rhaeto-Roman culture. September (and sometimes as late as October) is also the time to experience an”Almabtrieb,” the ceremonial driving of cattle and sheep from the alpine pastures back to their barns for the winter.