Get ready to be dazzled by the annual autumn display from Mother Nature.
Fall means grab your gear and your significant other and head out to a fall getaway. The tourists have gone home, hotels have reduced their peak summer rates, and the scenery sparkles in the crisp autumn air. Here are five favorite destinations for fall color:
New York’s Hudson Valley — Just north of New York City, where there are more than two dozen wineries, some planted in the 1700s by the French Huguenots who settled this area. Their furnished houses still stand on Huguenot Street in New Paltz, open for historic tours. All but the smallest have tastings; larger wineries including Millbrook Vineyards also have concerts and shops featuring locally made artisanal cheeses, jams and other edible goodies. There’s also some serious feasting at the Culinary Institute of America where part of the college education is cooking and running the four gourmet restaurants on campus. Or, walk through American history at the West Point Museum which displays everything from Revolutionary War flintlocks to artifacts from the NASA space program. Be sure to visit Rhinebeck, founded before the Revolutionary War, but famous recently as the site of Chelsea Clinton’s wedding.
- Stay: Mohonk Mountain House perched on a cliff above a 60-foot deep glacier-carved lake, this sprawling 250-room luxury lodge started life as a 10-room inn and tavern in the 1860s. It’s a classic, historic hotel — a must see.
Lake Tahoe – Twenty-two miles long and 14 wide, this cobalt blue lake is ringed with snow-capped mountains year-round – some of them dotted with world-class ski trails. I saw a memorable wide-angle view of all its jaw-dropping beauty suspended 500-feet above the surface hanging from a para-sail chute. Most of the land around the lake is state or federal parkland, with hundreds of miles of trails, paved and not. Hike the rugged Rubicon Trail near Emerald Bay, stake out your own section of the Tahoe Rim trail, which rings the lake, or bike to Fallen Leaf Lake, a mini-version of Tahoe, from Camp Richardson, where rustic lakeside cabins are tucked among the talk pines.
- Stay: Although the four casino-hotels at South Lake Tahoe – Caesars, Harrah’s, Harvey’s and Horizon are larger and more modern, there’s real history and time warp Fifties décor up north at Cal-Neva Resort, once owned by Frank Sinatra and favored by the “Rat Pack” and JFK. I love the line painted down the middle of the Indian Room ballroom – California on one side, Nevada on the other, and a mini-museum of Washoe Indian artifacts along the walls. Take the tunnel tour through the route that Sinatra and guests like Marilyn Monroe used to visit other guest cabins. Her ghost is said to haunt the tunnel, although I didn’t see it.
Albuquerque– Not all the hot air is on the political campaign trail. The biggest concentration is in the skies over Albuquerque each October, as thousands of colorful hot air balloons float silently above the desert landscape in the annual Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. A good place to watch the show is from the top of Sandia Peak via a ride on the world’s longest aerial tram. A great spot for bargain-priced Native American jewelry is in Albuquerque’s Old Town. Then head north to one of the many pueblos. Most famous is Taos, but most fascinating may be Acoma “Sky City” a historic Native American pueblo atop a plateau, also known for the intricately painted pottery made by tribal members. The atomic bomb was developed nearby, and whatever your feelings, the National Atomic Museum here is a fascinating look at both the history and peaceful potential of nuclear energy. Ride into the sunset atop a horse from the stables at the luxe Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa, which sits astride the Rio Grande, which you can also raft. There’s still some great whitewater rafting left this late in the season, and there’s always the spectacular red rock canyon scenery.
- Stay: The Sheraton Old Towne is walking distance from almost everything, including Albuquerque’s wonderful new children’s museum, Explora!, and the International Rattlesnake Museum, with venomous creatures safely behind glass and a display of the world’s beers with slithery names. In Santa Fe, you can’t sleep closer to the main square than Inn of the Anasazi, a classic Pueblo style structure with an indoor waterfall.
Palm Beach — Before you snicker at spending time surrounded by blue haired matrons, that Palm Beach barely exists anymore. The new one is populated by hip expats from the Hamptons and San Francisco who have peppered the formerly seedy west part of town with galleries, boutiques and restaurants. Sail Lake Worth and the Inland Waterway aboard Diva Duck, an open-air amphibious bus that’s just plain quacking good fun to ride. The Norton Museum of Art – largest in the state — holds a world-class collection of American art including Georgia O’Keefe and Jackson Pollock, plus an intricate Dale Chihuly glass ceiling of sea shells, coral and other aquatic life. The beach is free, a wide stretch of sand that’s mostly empty because of all the swimming pools and downtown shopping on Worth Avenue, where Tiffany, Bulgari, Armani and Bottega Veneta are across the street from Gucci, Escada and Valentino. When those bags are full, haul a bag of clubs around one of the areas 150 golf courses. Palm Beach is also close enough for a daytrip to the universally long lines at Orlando’s attractions.
- Stay: The Colony Hotel is all marble and mahogany classic elegance one block from Worth Avenue and the beach, with a Broadway-style cabaret theater that is popular with locals as well as guests. Be sure to take a martini-making lesson with the Polo Lounge’s head bartender, a stirring experience (pardon the pun), especially the cinnamon-dusted apple martini.
Quebec –It looks and tastes like France, but with these great advantages — close to home and the dirt cheap Canadian dollar. Eat yourself silly at one of the outdoor cafes along Rue St. Louis in Old Quebec, where buildings date to the 1600s, or climb aboard a modern hydrofoil for a whale-sighting expedition in the St. Lawrence. Head north of town to Montmorency Falls, taller than Niagara Falls, with a cablecar to the top, bridges across the top and nighttime fireworks. There are guided canoe trips in the Jacques Cartier National Park and an Amazon River cruise at the largest water park in Canada, with 23 slides, including one tall enough to be called Everest at Saint Gabriel de Valcartier. Or, just stay in town and wander around the only walled city north of old Mexico, discovered in 1535 by French explorer Jacques Cartier – 70 years before Henry Hudson discovered what became New York City.
- Stay: The historic, castle-like Fairmont Chateau Frontenac is Quebec’s most renowned landmark, dominating the city’s skyline from a cliff above the St. Lawrence.