Tapas, manzanilla and people-watching: Málaga
Forget the nearby costa and stay in Málaga for the best tapas, varied culture and vibrant nightlife. The Alcazaba is a restored Moorish fortress and gives expansive views across the city. Picasso was born in Málaga and a museum dedicated to his work from the early years to his last is situated in a 16th-century palace. If the heat gets too much, rent a bike and head north via a cycle path to the Botanical-Historical Gardens of La Concepción. Amble along an avenue of 80 trees from around the world and sit in the shade with an ice-cream. Eat tapas at Las Merchanas with a glass of manzanilla and enjoy a cocktail while you people-watch from one of the many terraces – it’s 23C in the evening.
Giraffes and good beer: Copenhagen
Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen. Explore this bicycle-friendly capital. Try the Glyptotek, which is like a combination of Kew Gardens and a fine-art gallery. Created by the Carlsberg family, it naturally serves good food and beer. On Thursday evenings, visitors can enjoy extended opening hours. Davids Samling, or the David Collection, is set in a mansion house and features a wonderful collection of Islamic artefacts. Or there’s my favourite – the zoo! Enter under a massive tower and head for a viewing platform that enables you to eyeball giraffes and appreciate their height. Or the elephant enclosure: I defy you not to be charmed by the resident youngster!
Beautiful medieval towers: northern Bavaria
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is Germany’s most perfect picture-postcard town. Its medieval wall, dotted with beautiful towers, is still completely intact and you can walk most of its length. What’s more, the town is set high above the verdant river valley of the Tauber. Take an autumnal walk through vibrant deciduous woodland up to the wonderful view of Taubertal and Topplerschlösschen, before descending to the Barbarossa Bridge and returning through the valley along the Tauber valley path. By then, you may have worked up a big enough appetite for a hearty dish of Franconian schäufele (pork shoulder) at the charming Zur Höll inn. Rothenburg is just over an hour away from Nuremberg by train (£19 return).
Snorkelling, seafood and shiny trams: Alicante
Alicante old town in autumn means a full weekend of fun. The beautiful old town is buzzing with bars and restaurants, and the beach and port are 10 minutes’ walk. There are lots of options for day trips – a bargain €21 (£18) boat trip to Tabarca island was fab, with good snorkelling and seafood, and a shiny tram system can take you all the way up the coast to Dénia if you choose. We stayed in a rented flat for about £100 a night.
Sweet treats and thrift shops: Stockholm
Start your day in the trendy Södermalm district, an island animated by hipsters and creatives. Take in the cool vibe as you stroll along the water in Tantolunden park. While there, wander through allotments and colourful wooden cabins dotted along the hillside, before checking out some local art at the Tanto graffiti wall. If you’re feeling brave, make the most of the autumn sun and take a dip in the city’s myriad waterways as catamarans glide by. Warm up with a spot of fika [a sociable coffee] in the popular Hornstull neighbourhood – the aptly named Fern & Fika is not to be missed. Then embrace the city’s green spirit and hunt for treasures in Stockholm’s thrift shops – Judits is a favourite.
Go now the cruise ships have left: Split, Croatia
Situated partly inside the ancient Romans walls of Diocletian’s Palace and surrounded by the vibrant waters of the Adriatic, old-town Split is the city’s historical and cultural centre, offering visitors’ shops, markets, bars and some of the best cuisine in Europe. White marble paving stones take you through the towering historic architecture, and the narrow alleys and winding streets are a fascinating part of the city’s charm. But if you don’t want to be herded through them like cattle, autumn is the best time to visit, when the sun still shines from dawn till dusk but the summer cruise ships are long gone.
Autumn tints and a ferris wheel: The Hague
For a beach holiday with a difference, head to The Hague for a few days in autumn – just 40 minutes by train from Schiphol (even quicker from Rotterdam Eurostar). Admire the autumn colours in the beautiful Japanese Garden within Clingendael Park, or take the tram to the tiny city of Delft, where you can visit the museum and factory of the eponymous potteryware. Take another tram to Scheveningen Beach, ride the ferris wheel on the pier and stroll along the boardwalk to De Waterreus, to warm up with a hot chocolate or enjoy a beachside lunch. Just a few minutes away by train is the little city of Gouda, famous for its cheese – go on a Thursday or Saturday for its excellent produce market.
Wicked fairies and spooky delights: Transylvania
Autumn in Transylvania is the perfect time to experience the beauty of the region: the medieval castles that seem to float on rafts of fog above the cold, the colourful forests in Sinaia, and the picturesque villages such as Râșnov that cling to valley sides, framed by thick woodlands. However, the autumnal highlight must be the Halloween party at Bran Castle, commonly known as Dracula’s castle, where visitors sport outlandish costumes, dance with the Wicked Fairies and stay overnight in the grounds. The misty autumn weather ensures the castle looks suitably spooky; the warmth of the welcome and low prices found in Romania adds to the appeal.
Cobbled streets and tasty pastries: Alsace
With autumn colours turning the valleys to warm shades of auburn and orange, the Alsace region in France makes for a perfect autumnal getaway. It’s a great spot to combine country walks and fresh autumn air with culinary treats and slow city strolls. The town of Colmar is a perfect base from which to explore the surrounding villages, with day trips to Germany or Switzerland also possible. Days can easily be spent meandering the cobbled and colourful streets, with pastries, wine and German-inspired cuisine found in the wide variety of cafes, food markets and bistros. Wine lovers and foodies won’t be disappointed!
Winning tip: an astonishing Viennese abbey
It’s very easy to get to Melk from Vienna, but I don’t know any non-Austrian person who has ever visited. I went there when I was working as an English teacher. The town is quite small and traditional, but the focal point is the astonishing Melk Abbey, a yellow baroque palace sitting above the Danube River that looks like a Disney castle. Half of it is a high school but the abbey is open to visitors, and, once inside, it gets better and better: a stunning library and a chapel that looks as if it’s made from 90% solid gold, filled with some great relics – skeletons and jaws galore. Catch an early train to see the sun rise over the golden autumn trees on the riverbank.