As summer recedes and the tourist hordes head home, a new Italy comes to the fore – a slower-paced place of heat-seared countryside springing back to life, ideally warm blue days tinged with reddening foliage, sparsely populated attractions and unpressured locals with a little more time to ensure that you’re relishing your stay.
This is the Italy which will greet golf-lovers as they roll in for the Ryder Cup’s first-ever Italian outing, to be held September 29 to October 1 at the Marco Simone club, in the countryside just east of Rome.
If golf is not a sport you associate with Italy, think again: there are world-class courses the length of the country, immersed in memorable landscapes. From historic Villa d’Este on the shore of Lake Como, to Castiglion del Bosco in Montalcino wine country and the courses at Rocco Forte’s glamorous Sicilian seaside outpost Verdura, there are settings for all tastes.
From north to south, Italy is at its richest and most productive: grapes are being harvested, then, later, olives; truffle hunters and their dogs take to fields and woods on misty mornings; chestnuts and pumpkin and wild boar take pride of place on restaurant menus. As the crowds disperse, prices ease too – especially for accommodation where in many places costs plummet.
Many activities traditionally associated with Italy are infinitely more pleasant in autumn. Visiting the archaeological site at Pompeii on a blue and breezy September day, for example, is incomparably preferable to under a relentless August sun. And don’t forget that the sea cools down far slower than the air: if you’re in southern Italy you’ll be able to enjoy a swim well into October, with a good chance of having the beach all to yourself.
Here’s where to spend an autumn break in the Bel Paese.
Autumn in Milan is not always balmy. The blanket of fog is often so dense that it turns the streets of Italy’s second-largest city into an atmospheric, if slightly clammy, festival of lights. And yet, Italy’s grey financial hub is a leader in art, fashion, design and fine dining, making it one of the country’s most interesting cooler-weather destinations.
The city’s spectacular Duomo (cathedral) is a Gothic extravaganza. Galleries celebrate everything from the Renaissance (Pinacoteca di Brera) to the more avant-garde (Museo del Novecento). Highlights of the 2023 autumn season include shows on El Greco and Goya (opening on October 13 and 31 respectively) at the Palazzo Reale. If the sun’s shining, head out of town for a round of golf among the autumn leaves at the luxurious Bogogno Resort, close to Lake Como.
The 2023 season of events at Milan’s historic La Scala opera house runs until mid-November. If, on the other hand, you’re prepared to brave the autumn chill, the canal-side bars in the Navigli zone are the trendiest place for an aperitivo. Try a negroni sbagliato: this popular tipple was born here.
Lake Trasimeno, Umbria
The area around lovely Lake Trasimeno flies beneath the mass-tourism radar even in the busiest season, but it really comes into its own in the autumn. The woods and vineyards turn fiery colours and the lake provides an idyllic background for hikes, bike rides and tastings of the lesser-known wine varieties being coaxed back to excellence in places where they’ve been grown for millennia.
In glorious medieval towns, works by Renaissance masters glow in their native settings: 500th anniversary exhibitions celebrating Perugino in Città della Pieve and Luca Signorelli in Cortona run until September 30 and 8 October respectively. Vineyard visits can be booked through the Strada del Vino Colli del Trasimeno website and are strongly recommended.
To experience Trasimeno up close, a 70km bike track loops the lake: on the southern shore there are glorious watery views from a well-made path. Bikes can be rented from Cicli Valentini in Castiglione del Lago. For a round of golf, the prestigious Antognolla Golf Resort is close by.
How to do it: For accommodation in Umbria, see our selection here. Perugia is the most convenient airport.
All roads lead to Rome, and in early September those roads are gridlocked with people flooding home from their seaside retreats. As the temperatures become less stifling, the city comes back to life: restaurants and bars reopen and the cultural calendar resets after an August lull. A stroll along the banks of the Tiber, basking in the autumn glow of the statuesque plane trees that line the river, will get you into the autumn mood.
For a glimpse at an extraordinary, recently unearthed trove of Etruscan bronze statues and a rare chance to peek around the Quirinale presidential palace, don’t miss ‘Gli Dei Ritornano’ (until October 29). For something more contemporary, the Romaeuropa Festival draws in avant-garde dance, music and theatre performers from around the world between September 6 and November 9.
If you’re in town for the golf, the 44th Ryder Cup is being hosted between September 25 and October 1 at the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in Guidonia Montecelio – events and practice start from September 26, matches start on September 29. The venue is a 30-minute drive from Rome and a short hop from Tivoli’s spectacular Villa d’Este and Hadrian’s villa – well worth a visit when the crowds thin.
Unless your budget stretches to the cushioned calm of a top-dollar hotel, the Amalfi Coast experience in tourist-clogged summer can be less than satisfying. Come autumn though, and traffic along the single cliff-hugging through road thins out, while the narrow lanes of the charming towns along this unique stretch of vertical coast revert to being a thoroughly pleasant place to breathe sea air as you stroll and explore.
What’s more, prices at those super-lush hotels – and all the others – become (almost) reasonable once again.
Fabled spots such as Positano, Ravello and Amalfi are ideal venues for elegant cocktail-sipping and excellent seafood dining, but they’re also great bases for some serious hiking. The Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods) is a track which follows the coast from on high, with views across dazzling blue to Capri. Shadeless, it’s punishing in summer but totally delightful in autumn, especially if you time your walk to catch one of the Sounds of the Gods concerts along the way.
When you’re struggling to remember what sunshine feels like and wishing you could turn the clock back a month or two, it might be time to pack your bags and head to Sicily. While summers in southern Italy are crowded and increasingly stifling affairs, autumn ushers in lower prices and temperatures warm enough to go for a pleasant dip as late as November.
There’s a lot to choose from on the Mediterranean’s largest island. If you’re contemplating a few rounds of seafront golf at the Verdura Resort, start your trip further west at the Greek temple of Selinunte and the equally jaw-dropping Cave di Cusa, the quarry where the site’s giant columns were carved.
Sunbathe on the long, golden beach in the Foce del Belice nature reserve, tempt your palate with a cooking course or a wine tour on the Planeta Estate near Menfi and take an evening stroll through the colourful port town of Sciacca.
Bear in mind that, no matter the time of year, Sicilians put on a very good, very loud party. If you’re visiting in late autumn, don’t miss the Festa di Santa Lucia in Siracusa (December 13 to 16), a raucous celebration of the city’s patron saint.