There are somethings Americans just do better than us. Pizza for one. Big glossy shoulder-padded TV soap operas for another. And Autumn too, or Fall, as they call it, which, when you think about it is a much more practical term. I mean leaves fall, they don’t…autumn.
I’ve always thought of this time of year as a bit of a damp squib in Britain. Over here it’s usually grey, drizzly and cool enough for a sweater or a jacket, but not so properly cold that you’d need to fish out your gloves or your woolly hat. Although I grant you Bonfire Night is a notable exception where we on this side of the Pond come into our own.
In America, particularly New England, Fall is a proper season complete with traditions and festivals, culminating around Halloween, which is a much bigger deal on the other side of the Atlantic. Days in October and November are usually crisp, sunny and blue, nights are frosty, and across the region a blanket of colour sweeps through forests and woods turning Sugar Maple, Sourwood and Sassafras delicious shades of red and orange, as if Mother Nature has magically flicked a light switch.
Of course, the weather being what it is, you can never quite predict with certainty where the tip-top “leaf peeping” spots in New England will be or when, but October is usually the peak season.
If you fly into Boston and head out into New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut or rural Massachusetts, it doesn’t take too long before you start to see the evidence of autumnal glory all around you. This is a great time of year to go hiking, biking, kayaking or horse riding and explore some of the back-roads towns that dot the region, particularly in Vermont, which could claim, with some justification, to be the state in which to luxuriate in the radiant autumn colours.
A few years ago, I visited Stowe, which is a great Vermont base and not just because it’s a 15-minute drive from the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory in Waterbury, where you can do tasting tours. Nor the fact that some of the pubs in town serve deep-fried, beer-battered pickles alongside their locally-brewed ales which is a fact that may actually change your life (or perhaps, more accurately, your life expectancy.) Nor that, after fleeing the Nazis in Austria and crossing the Alps into Switzerland, the Von Trapp family eventually settled in Stowe and their decedents now run a hotel there, so you can ask them face to face how to solve a problem like Maria. And then go hiking in the nearby hills, so you can climb every mountain and ford every stream.
Stowe is perhaps better known as a winter skiing base but there are a lot of activities going on in autumn around there, not least just taking in the glorious autumn foliage in the surrounding woods and forests on foot. You could also ride the gondola, usually used by boarders and skiers, to walk along the mountains at the top for spectacular views all the way up to Canada. Or for an even-higher perspective, go up in an early-morning hot air balloon. And a great way to really see the Autumn colours up close is to zipline through them at branch level. At night, you can go on a spooky lantern-illuminated tour, learning some history and ghost stories along the way. You could also go on husky-sled tours through the woods; before the first snow falls, you’ll pelt along on wheels rather than skis. Whichever you look at it, there’s a lot going on in New England in Autumn.
And one last tip if you’re driving back to Boston or New York to fly home – there’s no sales tax in the state of New Hampshire so if you’re passing through and in need of a new lap top or camera, that might be the place to stop off.
Will Hide is a London-based travel writer who spent 12 years on the travel desk of the Times before turning freelance. He still writes regularly for the Times as well as the FT, Telegraph and numerous magazines. You can follow his travels at Been There, Done It.