Academic planners should rightly be taken to court for crimes of calendar character assassination.
It’s their fault, after all, that so many of us approach September with back-to-school dread and despondency; the end of good times replaced by an inevitable slog of hard graft.
But it shouldn’t be that way. In fact, now is when all the fun begins. Across southern Europe, the weather is balmy, blissful and far more comfortable with temperatures hovering in the mid-to-high 20s. Now the boiling heat of summer has reduced to a gentle simmer on the continent, sightseeing is a joy, beach strolls are possible at midday and deep blue seas are their most swimmable (around Tenerife and Sardinia, the waters are reaching their temperature peak).
A harvest of new food and flavours also makes this the tastiest time of year to travel. Vineyards in France, Portugal and Italy are ripe for picking, sending the scent of sweet fruit drifting through the countryside. From the coast to the mountains, villages honour a bounty of crops with jubilant festivals and restaurant tables are laid with ingredients.
A mood of gratitude and appreciation is as warming as the soft, low-key sun. Dangling in the sky, her rays strike the skin at just the right angle making it forever feel like gin o’clock. And with the sunset happening at a more manageable hour, there’s more time to wave her off, dine and still have a comfortable sleep.
The light is arguably at its most magical in this moment, oiling the creative cogs of photographers and artists who’ve always cherished the slow segue of summer into autumn. From the fuchsia hues cast over Provence, to the amber dawns awakening Alpine peaks, colours are intense and captivating. Celebrating their last hurrah, landscapes are lively and vivid. And in the perfect marriage of warmth and light, wildflowers enjoy their last dance before falling to the ground like confetti.
So let’s learn to love the “after summer” season and give it the respect it deserves. And if you need still more reasons why now is the best time to go on holiday, we’ve shared a few ideas on the following pages.
SEAS AND BEACHES
1. Dance to a different beat
Club-closing parties would typically send flight prices soaring in September, but the White Isle is dancing to a different beat this year. New property Six Senses Ibiza signals the return to a hippie heyday, encouraging barefoot beach walks, poolside chilling and farm-to-fork feasts. Surrounded by ochre cliffs and feathery pine forests, 116 villas overlook Cala Xarraca, the Balearic island’s best bay for snorkelling and the site of a natural mud bath.
A seven-night stay at Six Senses Ibiza costs from £1,800pp, including return flights and transfers (020 3553 9071; scottdunn.com)
2. Bathe in riches
Earlier this year, tourists were fined for stealing sand from this Italian island’s beaches; dazzling like diamonds, the precious grains are protected by law. Fortunately, it’s not a crime to bathe in Sardinia’s riches – and now that the holiday hordes have departed, there’s more than enough beach to go around. For the most exotic stretches, head north to La Maddalena archipelago.
A four-night half-board stay at the Delphina Capo d’Orso Hotel Thalasso and Spa costs from £1,039pp, including flights and transfers (01293 831457; citalia.com)
3. Surf’s up
Trade winds quell an eruption of fiery temperatures on the volcanic Canaries. But September hits a sweet spot as gusts subside and an ocean swell picks up to make beaches blissful and surfing conditions ideal. Any excess puff is used to power off-grid eco village Finca de Arrieta, where 16 sustainable properties include stone cottages, Mongolian yurts, luxury villas or boho surf shacks. Zip silently around the island in a Toyota hybrid car (available as an add-on), collect fresh eggs from a hen house, or dive into the solar-powered pool.
Seven nights’ self-catering in a yurt (sleeping a couple or small family) costs from £975, excluding flights (00 34 928 826720; lanzaroteretreats.com)
FOOD AND DRINK
4. Stomp grapes
Douro Valley, Portugal
Vineyards are alive with the sound of stomping when winemakers harvest the fruits of their labours to create a new vintage. In Portugal’s Douro region, grapes are collected by hand and trodden underfoot in a legare tank – with an opportunity for spectators to join in. Master the art with a stay at the Six Senses Douro Valley, sampling wines by the glass and learning how to create a blend from some of the region’s 100 grape varieties at the in-house Wine Academy. Hop aboard a vintage wooden boat for a tour of several historic quintas and seize a chance to soak up some glorious Portuguese sun.
A seven-night B&B stay at the Six Senses Douro Valley costs from £3,200pp, including flights (020 3553 9071; scottdunn.com)
5. Foodie festivals
Europe’s sunniest island has always been smiled upon by the gods, yet local villagers prefer to worship a bonanza of fine food and wine. During grape harvest in the Troodos Mountains, song and dance accompanies the concoction of palouze – a muddle of rose water, mastic and crushed nuts boiled like a blancmange – while the carob tree-studded hills outside Limassol celebrate their sweet heritage with the Pastelli Festival.
A 14-night fly-drive costs from £956pp, including B&B accommodation (0208758 4758; sunvil.co.uk)
6. Hunt for treasure
It’s slicers at dawn for culinary cousins Croatia and Italy: both countries claim to have the best white truffles in the world. Decide for yourself on a hunt for the treasured tubers in Istria, where they start to sprout around now. Twin with a trip to the Losinj archipelago, one of the brightest spots in the country, exploring secluded beaches by boat.
An eight-day B&B trip costs from £2,195pp, including flights and car hire (020 7666 1244; regent-holidays.co.uk)
7. Think pink
Light shifts as seasons change in the south of France, softening into a palette of pinks as soothing as a glass of rosé . Photographers and artists have always favoured this time of year when creative juices flow as readily as Provençal wine. Watch flamingos descend on the mountain-backed wetlands of the Camargue and listen to wild white horses galloping through the Mediterranean surf.
Le Boat offers self-guided, self-catered stays along the Canal du Rhône à Sète from £749, excluding flights (023 9222 2177; leboat.co.uk)
8. Wild wonderland
Once holidaymakers have gone home, a new breed of visitor descends on the shores of the Algarve’s Ria Formosa Natural Park, a favourite habitat for migrating birds. A wing’s beat from North Africa, temperatures hover around 26C and coral sunsets are guaranteed by flocks of pink flamingos streaking the sky. With several islands along the coastal lagoon and nearly six miles of beaches, there are also opportunities to swim and snorkel with the largest population of seahorses in the world.
A seven-night B&B stay at clifftop resort Vila Vita Parc costs from £2,999pp, including flights (01242 547760; abercrombiekent.co.uk). They can also arrange excursions
9. Best of British
Isles of Scilly, Cornwall
Fickle and unreliable, British sunshine is an enigma. But in September she can usually be found just off the Cornish coast. Averaging 18C in September, England’s tropical archipelago has one of the most consistent year-round temperatures, keeping skies sapphire-blue and allowing exotic plants to flourish. As heathlands turn purple and wildflowers bloom along country lanes, grey seals swim into bays and migrant birds arrive on shores.
A five-day trip that takes in Tresco and St Mary’s costs from £895pp, including ferry crossings (020 8125 4281; wexas.com)
SUN RAYS FOR THE SOUL
10. Don’t worry, be happy
At the height of an Italian summer, it’s impossible to move without wilting – so any exertion is best saved for the season’s end. Gearing up for more manageable weather, Borgo Egnazia recently launched a new movement programme, Muvt, using happiness workshops, meditation sessions and outdoor training to refresh body and soul. All the action takes place just a short stroll from the Adriatic Sea, where warm waves promise to wash away any residual stress (and sweat).
A seven-night B&B stay at Borgo Egnazia costs from £2,495pp, including flights (01244 757304; elegantresorts.co.uk)
11. Reset and relax
Relaxation rules the roost at the Rooster retreat in Antiparos, a humble, low-key Cycladic island happily upstaged by its neighbouring headlining holiday acts. A far cry from Mykonos and Santorini, there are no TV sets or DJ decks in the newly opened 16-villa property, where simple, uncluttered décor soothes both eye and mind. Book a treatment in the House of Healing holistic spa, where rituals are based on ancient medicine, or let it all hang out on a nearby nudist beach.
A seven-night B&B stay at the Rooster costs from £4,300pp, including flights and transfers (020 3553 9071; scottdunn.com)
12. Get your vitamin sea
From bracing ocean dips to saltwater spas, the benefits of vitamin sea have been lauded for centuries. Lapped by Atlantic waves, the Bahia del Duque resort on the Costa Adeje offers full aquatic immersion: swim straight from the beach (where water is at its warmest in September) or follow an outdoor thalassotherapy circuit fed by the ocean and energised by mineral-rich volcanic rock. The property’s garden of palms, dragon trees and cacti make it a perennial tropical paradise.
A seven-night B&B stay at Bahia del Duque costs from £1,079pp, including flights (0844 493 0787; britishairways.com)
BRIGHT IDEAS FOR BIG ADVENTURES
13. Embrace the wild
Wave farewell to summer and the fins of migrating whales on a hike hugging the coastline of Portugal’s mid-Atlantic botanical island. Weave through a sculpture park of raging red rocks snaking along the Ponta de Sao Lourenco peninsula and follow paths hewn by ancient aqueducts known as levadas. Cloud-cloaked forests and kaleidoscopic flora create a magical setting for fairy-tale journeys crossing the saddle of serrated peaks and climbing mountains at sunrise.
An eight-day escorted tour costs from £1,149pp, including flights (020 8131 5701; exodus.co.uk)
14. Breathe easy
Celebrated as life-giving, mountains are the heaving lungs of this Greek island. Breathing easier now the searing summer sun has subsided, they are fuelled by the freshest air. Join a new hiking tour from G Adventures crossing the White Mountains and slicing through Samaria Gorge (the longest in Europe), where pine and cypress forests cling to sheer cliffs and unique species of flower are protected by law. Venture off-road to villages accessible only by foot or boat and swim from secret beaches where mountains crash into the sea.
A seven-day escorted trip costs from £779pp, including breakfasts, accommodation, transport and a guide. Excludes flights; departs September 21 (0207 313 6936; gadventures.com)
15. Climb every mountain
Hundreds of feet above sea level, it’s still possible to get a suntan by rising above the clouds on an Alpine mountain trail. Most cable cars and gondolas remain open until the end of September, and with an average of seven-and-a-half hours of sunshine a day, views of the Jungfrau and Mont Blanc are reliably clear. Stay in traffic-free Zermatt to access some of Europe’s highest mountains and glaciers – including the Matterhorn, Dom and Monte Rosa – and ride the high-rise Gornergrat railway which chugs along at eye-level with the peaks.
A seven-night half-board stay at Hotel Alex costs from £999pp, including flights (01483 945143; inghams.co.uk). A six-day Peak Pass giving unlimited access costs from £179pp
16. A walk to remember
Small in size but big in stature, Malta’s sister island was a sacred site for civilisations who arrived by sea and explored on foot. Follow their paths on a self-guided walking tour with Inntravel, where trails are connected by ferry and bus. Hike a coastline of soaring cliffs and gaze down at a honeycomb of tidal salt pans used for centuries, crossing canyons filled with emerald water and caves reputed to have sheltered epic seafarer Odysseus.
A seven-night trip costs from £870pp, including several meals, transfers and public transport tickets (01653 617001; inntravel.co.uk). Excludes flights
CULTURAL HIGH POINTS
17. Go old-school
Slowly waking from her siesta, the island at the tip of Italy’s boot is currently kicking into action. Domestic travellers have deserted beaches still warm enough for a swim, while an arrival of seasonal ingredients gives restaurant menus a new lease of life. Food festivals include a celebration of couscous in San Vito Lo Capo (September) and a paean to pistachio nuts on the slopes of Mount Etna (early October). Milder weather also welcomes a tour of the 2,500-year-old Valley of the Temples, the largest archaeological complex in the world.
An eight-day tailor-made tour costs from £4,790pp, including a guide, local transfers and flights (020 3918 4766; coxandkings.co.uk)
18. Preserve the past
A strategic trading post in the middle of the Med, Malta is a mille-feuille of megalithic temples, Roman ruins and baroque fortifications. Peeling away its many layers is an arduous activity mid-summer, but once heat and humidity are under control, unearthing history suddenly becomes fun. Bringing discoveries up to date, Original Travel has partnered with archaeological experts Past Preservers, who have worked as location scouts for Malta’s many visiting film crews. From the bones of dwarf elephants at Ghar Dalam to the backstage set of Popeye Village, it’s all covered. There might even be a chance to join a live archaeological dig.
Four-day trips start from £1,195pp, including B&B accommodation and flights (020 3582 4990; originaltravel.co.uk)
19. Explore the landscape of light
Blazing with the ferocity of a matador’s muleta, the Spanish capital is not a comfortable place to be in the heat. Now the mercury has settled, there’s an opportunity to explore the Landscape of Light – a collection of art and science institutions along Paseo del Prado and El Retiro Park granted Unesco World Heritage status earlier this year. A bastion of belle époque grandeur, the perfectly located 110-year-old Mandarin Oriental Ritz Madrid recently reopened after a three-year overhaul.
A five-night B&B stay at the Mandarin Oriental Ritz Madrid costs from £2,750pp, including transfers and flights (0808 280 8238; blacktomato.com)
20. Art attack
It rained when French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent first visited the rose city, but he soon fell in love with “a Moroccan sun that probes every recess and corner”. Admire the cobalt blues, saffron yellows and ruby reds that inspired his collections by visiting his botanical Jardin Majorelle and a neighbouring museum dedicated to his work. Complete the look at newly renovated Riad Elegancia, crafted by local artisans to echo the city’s greatest design triumphs.
A five-day B&B stay at Riad Elegancia costs from £1,800pp, including flights and transfers (01993 627145; audleytravel.com)