WESTONBIRT ARBORETUM COTSWOLDS It may sound like something unsavoury types get up to in parks, but leaf peeping is in fact the popular American pursuit of admiring the dramatic changing autumn foliage colours. And it is worth remembering that we have our fair share of autumnal loveliness right here at home. Westonbirt Arboretum in the Cotswolds is famous for its fiery autumn colours. The action starts in early September, with dazzlingly bright full moon maples (some of the biggest in the world), acer japonicums and Chinese spindles. From mid-October Japanese maples dominate, and to add to the excitement, other trees start producing rich aromas, such as the katsura, which smells of burnt caramel. Even the common beech tree turns the most beautiful shades of gold, russet and yellow. During half term (October 25-29), children can take part in Autumnal Highlights arts and crafts days. The arboretum is 10 minutes from Calcot Manor, which has the excellent Conservatory restaurant and award-winning seven-treatment-room Calcot Spa.
The details Doubles at Calcot Manor from £240 (01666-890391; calcotmanor.co.uk). Entry to Westonbirt Arboretum from October 1 to November 30 costs £9 for adults, £8 for concessions and £4 for children.
HAKONE NATIONAL PARK JAPAN While most people associate Japan with spring cherry blossoms, fewer are aware of its koyo (colourful leaves) in the autumn. Locals love the season, and a favourite autumnal pastime is a soak in a hot spring, admiring the foliage. Each year, from mid-September, the autumn colours creep south from the northern island of Hokkaido, through central and into southern Japan. In places like Kyoto, these extraordinary colours can be found well into November. Add Japan's beautiful temple gardens into the mix and it all gets ridiculously picturesque. Inside Japan offers a couple of very good autumnal tours, including the 10-day Golden Route, which starts in hectic Tokyo but quickly leaves it behind as it follows the path of the old Tokaido road to Kyoto. Highlights of this inspired introduction to Japan include visits to Hakone National Park, a riot of incredible colours in November (against a backdrop of Mount Fuji), and a series of beautiful gardens in Kyoto. The details Inside Japan's Golden Route includes nine nights' accommodation and breakfast, transport within Japan and two day's guiding from £1,471 pp (01173-144620;insidejapantours.com). Return flights cost from £694 pp with BA.
LAKE BLED SLOVENIA For a truly original leaf-peeping experience, try Bled in Slovenia, an extraordinary landscape of medieval villages and verdant forests that tumble down to emerald-green Lake Bled. Hillsides turn the most heart-stoppingly beautiful colours in October and November - from luminous green to piercing yellow, to burnt orange and ruby red. For something really authentic, spend a week staying on a local working farm. Only a 10-minute drive from Lake Bled (or a 20-minute walk to town), Mulej is a 165-acre family-run farm in an idyllic mountain setting overlooking the valley. You can help Damjana, the farmer's wife, with chores, feed the animals, fish in the pond or strike out into the countryside on foot, bike or horseback. For the best views of the foliage, rent a boat, head out into the lake and turn around to admire the flame-coloured forests framed by the Julian Alps. The 15th-century Church of the Assumption of Mary, which sits on its own island in the middle of the lake, is also worth a visit. The details Just Slovenia (01373-814230; justslovenia.co.uk) offers a seven-night stay at Mulej, flights and car hire from £445 pp.
STOWE VERMONT The classic leaf-peeping destination is, of course, Vermont, where sugar maplecovered hillsides and back country roads are transformed from a sea of vivid green to flaming reds, deep oranges and eye-poppingly bright yellows, like confused traffic lights, in October. An ideal base in the heart of it all is pretty Green Mountain Inn in the 200-year-old village of Stowe in the shadow of Mount Mansfield, the tallest mountain in the state. From here you can stock up on local farm produce and refreshing apple cider and then stroll, drive, mountain-bike or even rock-climb into the surrounding wilderness, breathing in crisp, fresh mountain air all the way. Stowe is also home to about 45 award-winning restaurants. Treat yourself to dinner at Trapp Family Lodge, a year-round resort hotel run by descendants of the original Von Trapp family on which The Sound of Music was based.
The details Doubles at the Green Mountain Inn during the autumn from $149, with a two-night minimum stay (greenmountaininn.com). For details of the best autumn foliage driving routes in the Stowe area, visit gostowe.com. Next week: apartments in Venice
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