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Best places to visit in Italy in fall

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(CNN) – Why travel to Italy in the fall? The better question is: “Why not?”

While the country’s peak summer tourism season is over, insiders know that September through the fall is in fact the best time to travel to Italy.

“Italy is gorgeous in September,” says Fulvio De Bonis, the founder of Imago Artis Travel, a Rome-based company that sells luxury Italy trips.

“The popular spots are still happening without the mad crowds of summer, the weather is warm but not too hot, and the Italians working in tourism are in a better mood because they are not so overworked.”

And in the second half of September through October and November, De Bonis says, hotel and airfare prices drop.

Those considering a fall 2019 trip are in luck because airfare prices to Italy from the United States are less expensive this year compared with 2018, according to the airfare prediction app Hopper. Travelers can expect to pay an average of $807 roundtrip to Milan, a decrease of 21% from last year, and $842 roundtrip to Rome, down 17%.

Italy is the second-most popular destination for Americans (travel to other states in the United States was the first) this fall, says luxury travel network Virtuoso.

The country is packed with cities and regions worth visiting, but the following five are CNN Travel‘s autumn favorites:

Milan

Fall is prime time for Italy’s fashion and business capital, says Luca Finardi, the general manager of Mandarin Oriental, Milan.

“Locals disappear from June through August, but when they’re back in September, you see them out in fashionable clothes and experience an energy that’s palpable,” he says.

Milan Fashion Week in September brings a frenetic, chic energy to the city, and the weeks following see it become progressively calmer.

Finardi recommends walking the Quadrilatero della moda, or historical center, peeping in the decked-out, designer shop windows. If you ever visit during Fashion Week, some central spots such as Piazza San Babila broadcast the shows in real time on maxi screens.

For people-watching and good seafood, pop by Langosteria and The Fisher, then head for stylish cocktails at Dabass, in the Porta Romana neighborhood, or The Doping Club. Mandarin’s Bar Bistrot is a standby for model-spotting.

A stroll through the Brera neighborhood, akin to New York City’s Soho, is another Milan must. Discover Insta-worthy design stores — such as Robertaebasta and Richard Ginori, known for its refined porcelains — and high-end boutiques.

When it comes to the arts, Sue Kasmar, the owner of Sue Kasmar Travel in Santa Barbara, recommends hitting one of the lesser-known jewel box museums, such as the Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci, which houses an impressive collection of scientific instruments and models made between 1952 and 1956 that are an interpretation of da Vinci’s drawings.

Another treasure is the Pinacoteca Di Brera, where visitors will find works by masters Raphael and Caravaggio (the Mandarin offers private tours).

And don’t miss the Palazzo Reale, a cultural center and gallery that features a retrospective of metaphysical painter Giorgio De Chirico starting September 25.

Mandarin Oriental: Via Andegari, 9, 20121, Milano MI, Italy; +39 02 8731 8888

Langosteria: Via Savona, 10, 20144, Milano MI, Italy; +39 02 5811 1649

The Fisher: Viale Bianca Maria, 8, 20129, Milano MI, Italy; +39 02 545 5141

Dabass: Via Piacenza, 13, 20135, Milano MI, Italy; +39 349 356 5436

The Doping Club: The Yard Hotel, Piazza Ventiquattro Maggio, 8, 20123, Milano MI, Italy; +39 02 8941 5901

Robertasbasta: Via Fiori Chiari, 3, 20121, Milano MI, Italy; +39 02 861593

Richard Ginori: Piazza S. Marco, 3, 20121, Milano MI, Italy; +39 02 8901 1646

Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia “Leonardo da Vinci”: Via San Vittore, 21, 20123, Milano MI, Italy; +39 02 48 5551

Pinacoteca Di Brera: Via Brera, 28, 20121, Milano MI, Italy; +39 02 7226 3264

Palazzo Reale: Piazza del Duomo, 12, 20122, Milano MI, Italy; +39 02 8846 5230

Sicily

A summer trip to Sicily can be punishing because of the heat, says De Bonis of Imago Artis Travel. In the fall though, “you can actually be outside and savor all that the region has to offer.”

First, there’s the sea.

With the water still warm enough for swimming, the cognescenti flock to Rocce Forte Verdura, located on the southern coast near the small seaside town of Sciacca. It’s here where Google holds its annual summer camp for top execs and boldfacers such as Oprah and Michael Jordan.

The Greek temples all over Sicily, dating as far back as the 8th or 7th century BC, are an even greater treasure in the the cooler fall months. Among those you might wish to visit:

— The Temple of Apollo in Syracuse
— Temple C in Selinus, western Sicily
— The Valley of the Temples in Agrigento (a UNESCO World Heritage Site where Dolce Gabbana held its Alta Moda show this past summer).

Then, of course, there’s the food.

The region offers the tastiest cuisine and best products in Italy, argues De Bonis. “Sicily has had many rulers throughout its history including the Arabs and the Spanish, and its dishes are an amalgamation of different cultures.”

In early fall, the island’s prized Bronte pistachios grown in southern Sicily ripen to their fullest.

Pistachio lovers can visit different farms to learn about their production, and indulge in nutty green delicacies such as cookies, liquors, ice creams, spreads and even pastas. A pistachio festival at the end of September celebrates the harvest, and travelers can arrange an excursion to work alongside farmers to pick pistachios.

And a visit to Sicily isn’t complete without seeing Mount Etna, an active volcano in the south.

“You can hike it, do a helicopter tour or explore via Range Rover,” says Simone Amorico of Access Italy.

Cap off your excursion with a stop to one of the globally recognized wineries around the volcano for a tasting and picnic.

Rocco Forte Verdura, S.S. 115, Km 131, 92019 Sciacca AG, Italy; +39 0925 998001

Temple of Apollo: Largo XXV Luglio, 96100 Siracusa SR, Italy: +39 0931 175 6232

Temple C in Selius: 91022 Castelvetrano, Province of Trapani, Italy

Valley of the Temples: 92100 Agrigento, AG, Italy; +39 0922 621657

Rome

There’s a phrase locals use in September called “Settembrate Romane,” explains Amorico, a lifelong Roman.

“It means the perfect day when it comes to the weather, sunshine and setting, and that’s what September and the fall in Rome is,” he says. “The sunsets are gorgeous, and the city is alive.”

Rome’s popular tourist attractions such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon offer the same experience no matter the time of year you visit, but the early fall is special because the city’s many parks are lush with deep green trees in peak bloom.

Romans love Villa Borghese, which boasts landscaped English-style gardens and is dotted with fountains, statues and small lakes, and Villa Doria Pamphili, the largest landscaped public park in the city.

Green spaces abound in this city, including the Botanical Garden, in Trastevere, and the Appian Way Regional Park, which spans close to 12,000 acres.

Amorico recommends long, leisurely strolls through these parks with plenty of stops for pictures along the way. His favorite way to pass a fall day is to pick up bread, cured meats and wine at a deli, and enjoy a picnic lunch with friends.

“We walk, eat, take a short nap underneath the sun, have an espresso and walk some more,” he says.

Exclusive tours are another way to experience Rome in the fall.

Art aficionados can consider half-day excursions to small, unknown churches that are home to masterpieces by Caravaggio and other world-famous Italian painters.

If you’re interested in the tried-and-true tourist attractions, book an insider tours of the Vatican.

Access Italy has one where travelers help the official key holder of the Vatican Museums, Gianni, open its 300 doors. Once they do, visitors walk in solitude through the vast rooms and take in the breathtaking tapestries and, of course, the magnificent Sistine Chapel.

Come evening, the city’s newest see-and-be-seen spot is the rooftop bar at Hotel de La Ville, a Rocce Forte Hotel at the top of the Spanish Steps in an 18th century palazzo.

Hotel Eden’s top floor bar and restaurant, the Michelin-starred La Terrazza, is another cool-crowd destination with spectacular views of the Eternal City.

Villa Borghese, Piazzale Napoleone I, 00197 Roma RM, Italy; +39 06 0608

Villa Doria Pamphili, Via di S. Pancrazio, 00152 Roma RM, Italy; +39 06 0608

Botanical Garden, Largo Cristina di Svezia, 23 A – 24, 00165 Roma RM, Italy; +39 06 4991 7107

Appian Way Regional Park, Via Appia Antica, 42, 00178 Roma RM, Italy; +39 06 513 5316

Hotel de la Ville, Via Sistina, 69, 00187 Roma RM, Italy; +39 06 977931

Hotel Eden, Via Ludovisi, 49, 00187 Roma RM, Italy; +39 06 478121

Puglia

With its impossibly picturesque white towns, rocky cliffs facing the clear blue sea and warm people, Puglia is one of the hot new destinations in Italy.

As in Sicily, food is a major draw.

A culinary experience in a masseria, a traditional countryside building, immerses visitors in the region’s specialities. Take a class in mozzarella and burrata cheese making (both are ubiquitous in the area) or a cooking lesson with a nonna (grandma), who teaches guests how to prepare the typical orecchiette pasta.

Olive oil is a major industry in the region, and many visitors will visit olive oil farms to glimpse centuries-old presses and mills, and ending with a tasting of the products drizzled over bread or cheese or on their own with a spoon. More sporty travelers can ride bikes through the hundr of acres of olive groves.

A rarer treat: a fishing excursion.

September is the perfect time for fishing in the Adriatic Sea as it is the month following the yearly fishing prohibition,” De Bonis says, so expect a greater yield than at other times. Catch and release sea bream and mackerel, or collect your haul and have the chef back at your hotel or on your boat whip up a crudo drizzled with local olive oil and flecked with sea salt.

On the art front, the ancient city of Lecce has a thriving community of artisans who make everything from pottery to sandstone carvings to papier mache goods.

“They’re scattered around town, and you can visit them and watch them work,” Kasmar says.

Masserias are the way to go when it comes to accommodations. All the buzz is about Masseria Torre Maizza, a new Rocce Forte Hotel, whose beach club was a major crowd pleaser this summer.

Borgo Egnazia, a more than 40-acre resort with a top-notch golf course and spa, is another boldfacer go-to. It’s here where Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake wed, and Madonna has been a repeat guest.

Masseria Torre Maizza, Contrada Coccaro, 72015 Savelletri, Fasano BR, Italy; +39 080 482 7838

Borgo Egnazia, Strada Comunale Egnazia, 72015 Savelletri, Fasano BR, Italy; +39 080 225 5000

The Amalfi Coast and Capri

The Amalfi Coast’s dreamy setting of hilly roads hugging the sea, turquoise waters, craggy cliffs and terraced lemon groves may just be the most photogenic place in Italy. Capri, a short boat ride away, isn’t far behind.

Both embody the iconic image of the Italian dolce vita.

“You have pure elegance, outstanding landscapes, gorgeous waters and tasty food,” De Bonis says. The region is packed in the summer but more more open in the fall.

And cooler temperatures mean outdoor activities rule.

Lemons are a staple of Amalfi, and it’s worth taking a lemon tour where a local farmer shows you their orchards and samples the goods, such as lemon cake, lemon hard candies and, of course, limoncello liquor (hotels and travel companies can arrange a visit).

The fall hiking alone is worth the trip. There are dozens of trails of various levels to traverse, either alone or with a guide.

The Path of the Gods, around 4.5 miles long, is a famed clifftop route in Amalfi that has panoramas of the small coastal villages scattered around the sea.

Capri offers, among other trails, a heart-pumping trek up Monte Solaro, the highest point on the island, in Anacapri.

Wellness hotels in particular offer attractive hiking-pampering deals.

Monastero Santa Rosa, a former 17th century monastery, for example, has a package with a half-day hike that takes guests through an ancient chestnut tree forest, ending up at a family-run agriturismo, a farm-to-table meal where the menu changes depending on the yield from the family‘s farm.

Early fall may serve up roasted squash tossed with broad beans, potatoes, tomatoes and basil. Back at the hotel, guests head to the spa — hands down the best in the region — for an arnica body wrap.

Whether they’re based in Amalfi or Capri, De Bonis urges a stop at the well-preserved ancient Roman ruins of Pompeii.

“In summer, most visitors tend to rush in and out,” he says. “With fewer people around and perfect temperatures, you can savor the forum, the stunning thermal baths and more.”

You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to fantastic hotels to hang your hat, but in Capri, the glamor set gravitates to JK Place. The Italian-deco white estate has only 22 rooms and is famed for its exceptional but unstuffy service.

On the Amalfi Coast, Hotel Santa Caterina and Le Sirenuse, both family run, have the glitterati jockeying for reservations.

Monastero Santa Rosa, Via Roma, 2, 84010 Conca dei Marini SA, Italy; +39 089 832 1199

JK Place, Via Marina Grande, 225, 80076 Capri NA, Italy; +39 081 838 4001

Hotel Santa Caterina, Via Mauro Comite, 9, 84011 Amalfi SA, Italy; +39 089 871 012

Le Sirenuse, Via Cristoforo Colombo, 30, 84017 Positano SA, Italy; +39 089 875066