If there is one city of the Mediterranean coast that is best visited in the autumn, it is surely Trieste, pre-eminently an autumnal city itself, writes Jan Morris. It is perpetually experiencing the autumn of its days, never having recovered the glory of its importance as the principal seaport of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Ever since the collapse of that imperium, and Trieste’s absorption into Italy, it has been a place whose allure is the allure of autumn, when the leaves are lying in the side-streets dreaming of sunnier times.
I love Trieste, and I love it largely because of its innate melancholy. It has its bathing beaches and its boulevards but it has never been a holiday resort, and most of its summer visitors spend only a day or two on their way to the coast of Croatia. In its great 19th-century days it was a powerful international seaport – in effect the port of Vienna and central Europe – and when the Habsburgs faded into history, they left behind, in a wistful kind of way, many mementos of their presence. Autumn is the time to enjoy them! Autumn, season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, when you can idle away the hours in the old Viennese cafés of Trieste, drinking some of the best coffee in Europe, chatting with some of the most amiable people, contemplating the great figures of European literature who have idled here before you.
Contemplating history too, for in Trieste the past is always alive. For me one of the great pleasures of travel, especially when summer is over, is to sit over my coffee (fairly well wrapped up) at the Caffe degli Specchi in the great Piazza Unita on the waterfront at Trieste. All around the square, children (also well wrapped up) are running around, playing football, pushing toy prams, laughing among the pompous civic architecture of the place, while their proud mammas keep careful eyes upon them from the café terrace. Then I can imagine, all too clearly, the great old steamships tied up at the quay, and the military band playing waltzes or stirring marches in the bandstand outside the governor’s palace, and James Joyce writing a poem at the next table, and some be-feathered imperial general, his sword propped up beside him, treating his aide de camp to a grappa while they prepare the order of the day’s parade.
Hardly a holiday, you may think? Not a holiday in the tabloid, travel agent, cut-rate airline sense, but a holiday out of the summer, a holiday in the maturing sun. And with any luck a wind will descend upon you as you sit there, first gently rustling the poet’s notebook, the aide’s order form, the pages of the children’s ABCs and the waiter’s pad, but then suddenly revealing itself in the full colossal majesty of the bora. You have not experienced Trieste until you have experienced the bora, especially in the autumn. It is a terrific blustering wind out of the north, fierce enough to topple trams or keep steamboats at their moorings, a phenomenon so absolutely of this city that it long ago became a municipal brag, joke and legend.
What a postcard you can send home then! The old British seaside cards would have done the bora proud, fat ladies holding their skirts down and the umbrellas blowing inside-out, and when you get home the funniest, truest and least boring of all your holiday stories will tell of when the bora almost blew you into the harbour, and sent you dripping, but exuberant back to your hotel, during your few autumnal hours in Trieste.
You’d have to be a masochist (or Italian) to book a beach holiday in sweltering Sicily in August – but come September, the temperatures drop and the crowds disappear, writes Joanne O’Connor. Syracuse, with its Baroque old town surrounded by crumbling sea walls, is a perfect base for exploring south-east Sicily, and its student population keeps things lively all year round. This is also the best time to visit the Madonie mountains, a region famed for its gastronomy. You will see locals picking mushrooms and chestnuts in the forests, while the wine and olive harvests are celebrated in village festivals.
Where to stay: The Caol Ishka hotel (www.caolishka.com, from €200) combines designer guest rooms with rural charm just outside Syracuse. For villas, contact Think Sicily (www.thinksicily.com), which has an excellent range of luxury properties.
After the hedonism of the summer the White Isle finally shifts down a gear. The beaches are deserted, the sea still warm. There’s clubbing if you want it – Pacha stays open all year – but Ibiza aficionados are more likely to be found hanging out at one of the many rustic-chic agriturismos.
Where to stay: For access to the restaurants and nightlife of Ibiza Town, book the five-star Ibiza Gran Hotel (www.ibizagranhotel.com, from €520). In the rural centre of the island, Atzaro (www.atzaro.com, from €290) is an ultra-stylish agriturismo and A-list hangout in a 400-year-old farmhouse. Some of Ibiza’s most tempting villas can be found at www.mrandmrssmith.com: pick of the crop is Can Bikini, a finca sleeping 10 in the hills near St Agnes (from €11,250 per week).
It’s not just the landscape of Corsica that mellows as summer draws to a close – the notoriously off-hand locals seem to soften too as they reclaim their island from the tourist hordes. Sunseekers are replaced by walkers tackling classic trails such as the 180km-long GR20. Some of the beach resorts can feel a bit “ghost-town” out of season, but it’s business as usual in the bustling marinas of Calvi and Bonifacio. A short drive inland takes you into the hills, where welcoming auberges serve up seasonal specialities such as wild boar stew, mushroom ravioli and chestnut ice-cream.
Where to stay: Overlooking Calvi Bay, La Villa (www.hotel-lavilla.com, from €400) has an enviable location and Michelin-starred restaurant. Built into the ramparts of Bonifacio, Hôtel Genovese (www.hotel-genovese.com, from €205), offers cool, designer interiors and panoramic views. The Villa Book features the Villa Speranza, with striking modern design and views over the Gulf of Porto Vecchio (www.thevillabook.com, £6,965 per week; sleeps 10).
Hvar Town has long been one of Croatia’s hippest resorts. In high season a young, international party crowd spills out of the bars, and yachts fill the marina. By September the crowds thin out, but unlike some of Croatia’s smaller resorts, it still has a pulse.
Where to stay: The waterfront Riva (www.suncanihvar.com, from €140) is the hottest address in town. For a quieter option, the Palmizana (www.palmizana.hr, from €100 for a one-bedroom bungalow) is a lush, bohemian retreat on the island of Sveti Klement, a 20-minute boat-ride away.