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Episode #140: 7 Reasons to take an October trip to Italy

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October is the perfect month to visit Italy for many reasons. It’s a unique time of year when there are some things you can only experience (and eat!) then. As the landscape changes as does the atmosphere of the towns and villages. At this time they reap the rewards of the harvest and in the cities, the locals reclaim the streets – making it a truly magical time to visit Italy. 

Show notes
As Untold Italy founder Katy looks forward to her upcoming trip to Italy in October, she lets us into why this is an amazing time of year for a visit to Italy and the places to put on your itinerary for some unique experiences. The harvest brings dramatic changes to the landscapes as well as a change of pace for the locals, creating a special kind of atmosphere in the towns and villages of Italy. In October there are some tasty treats, festivals and celebrations, that you would not find at any other time of year. 

What you’ll learn in this episode

In October, up and down the country, landscapes will change as will the light and atmosphere. If you’re someone that loves the beauty of Autumn or Fall, with the changing leaves, vibrant colors, and a crispness to the air – then many places in Italy, especially on the lakes – are a sight to behold. As well as enjoying the season itself, here are 7 more reasons why October is an amazing time to go. 

Our 7 Reasons to visit Italy in October

Fewer crowds

  • Not everyone is bothered by crowds, but many (like us) prefer to have a more leisurely approach to travel. In October, this is when everywhere is less crowded and more enjoyable – especially in the cities
  • You can wander leisurely down streets that you could barely move in during peak season and just see everything more clearly and soak up the atmosphere. You’ll also find this is when the locals re-appear. If you’ve ever lived in a big city where there’s a big tourist population, you’ll know that the locals generally scurry off during peak seasons and aim to stay out of the way of visitors when they can. It’s not unfriendliness, it can just be quite exhausting to push through thousands of visitors who don’t really know what direction they want to go in, when you’re just trying to go about your everyday business. So the locals in these popular places tend to re-claim their streets about now
  • In the usual crush of Rome or Florence, in October you can walk down the street and just meander, which you can’t really do in September
  • Fewer crowds mean everything is a little easier – you have more flexibility as you know you don’t have to be the first in line somewhere
  • It’s easier to get restaurant bookings. Katy’s Rome favorite – Roscioli is really hard to get into peak season and she’s been disappointed by having left it too late before, but there’s so much more availability in October

Better value and choice

  • In October you have much better value and choice for everything from flights and hotels to tours. 
  • This summer, prices in Italy were the highest in Europe thanks to really strong demand and really high occupancy rates in the hotels. This meant that the hotels were able to adjust their prices upwards because they had so much demand, especially coming from the United States
  • With airlines too, there weren’t as many flights on schedules as they’d had previously, so there was a big rush for everyone to go to Italy, which pushed the prices up – a simple demand and supply equation
  • As well as better flight availability, you’ll get much better deals on flights and hotels in October and can more easily be upgraded
  • You can even get last-minute deals then, which have become much rarer lately
  • Tour and ticket availability is also much better. If you’re wanting to go and see the Vatican at a particular time, it’s much easier to get those slots with fewer crowds and queues

Cooler temperatures

  • In October things start to cool down, which, if you’ve heard from anyone who’s been in Rome this summer, is very welcome to locals and visitors alike
  • Cool temperatures are great for exploring, especially in the big cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice
  • You can wander leisurely around large sites that are exposed to open air like the Colosseum and the Appian Way in Rome, rather than trudging around, trying to find shade for respite from the heat and getting quite exhausted
  • In areas where it is traditionally very warm in the south, like Sicily, it’s so much more pleasant but you can still get lucky and get some warm days for swimming on the Amalfi Coast (the sea had warmed up over summer, so is much warmer than it would be in Spring)
  • Towards the end of the month, as it gets even cooler, it’s great pasta-eating weather. Who doesn’t love a steaming bowl of pasta with a glass of red wine, tucked away in a cozy restaurant on a cool evening?

It’s harvest season

  • Harvest is a very special time of year in Italy. Last year, we talked with Arianna from KM Zero Tours, in episode 89, about what happens in Tuscany during harvest time. This is when the harvest of the grapes and olives takes place and of course, these ingredients are so iconic in Italian cuisine as well as the lifestyle and culture.
  • It’s part of the rhythm of life and of the countryside traditions. If you can be part of that or even just observe it for a little while, it’s really soothing. There’s something really comforting about the repetition of seasonal processes that they’ve been carrying out for centuries.
  • Even though the pace of life for many of us has gotten really fast and we’ve had lots of disruptions in recent years, we’ve still got these processing going on, no matter what
  • Once you’ve harvested crops – the grapes in particular, then the countryside will look completely different. It looks a little bit bare and raw, but in a beautiful way – a major contrast to the green rolling hills that existed before
  • The grape harvest, known as vendemmia happens throughout September and October (and this year may even be a little bit earlier because it’s been so hot), but around this time of year there are lots of festivals and celebrations
  • If you do want to go to a winery during this time make sure you do book way ahead of time – because obviously they’re very busy
  • The olive harvest is also really special. Many people have their own olive groves – small plots, and they then all come to communal presses to get their olive oil for the coming year. This process has been going on for centuries and is a very community-orientated activity
  • If you’re around at this time you can hopefully get to try the freshly pressed olive oil. It’s something quite unique and utterly delicious. As soon as it gets into the bottle, it’s starting to lose a lot of the nutrients and flavor, so although still delicious, there’s nothing quite like freshly pressed olive oil

Seasonal produce

  • There’s nothing quite like the smell of chestnuts roasting over the coals and this is exactly what you’ll get as the chestnuts come into season in October. When you’re walking around a little town or even in Piazza Navona in Rome, they have chestnut vendors on the street that will sell you a bag of roasted chestnuts to munch on as you wander the streets or sit and admire a beautiful fountain
  • The truffle season is in Autumn or Fall, and especially in October, you’ll find in areas where you can get truffles, they’ll be added to many dishes in restaurants. There is truly nothing like the taste of fresh truffle
  • In restaurants all over Italy, these ingredients are celebrated and special dishes are created
  • It’s also the right time to try porcini mushrooms and truffles in risotto, over pasta – it will be so fresh. It’s not something that you can repeat in another season because even if you find the ingredient available, it doesn’t taste quite the same

Sagre

  • Sagre are Italy’s food festivals. They are incredible community events. They’re not put on for tourists, they’re put on by the locals for  locals to celebrate the harvest of their particular local products and the things that they’re very proud of
  • In Piedmont, in the city of Alba, they have the iconic and extremely popular Alba White Truffle Festival, which is a really important and icon food festival in Italy, and if you’re a dedicated foodie. The streets are lined with little stalls, they’re special truffles and truffle products. Restauranteurs from all around the world will send buyers to buy truffles. and they’ll be flown off to New York, to Tokyo and all over. But the thing about truffles is that they don’t travel so well, they are best straight out of the ground. So if you want to try white truffle, then you’re going to have to do it where they grow, like in Piedmont and a great place to do it is at the Alba truffle fair
  • The Sagra della Castagna (Chestnut Festival) is held in Scala on the Amalfi Coast. You might not think of chestnuts when you think of the Amalfi Coast, but the area of Campania is very famous for chestnuts, and there’s an abundance of chestnut groves in that area. They have some very delicious dishes, including pasta dishes that they create for the occasion
  • In October, Mast Cot takes place in Spilamberto, Emilia Romagna and celebrates the boiling of the grape must which is the start of the process to make aged balsamic vinegar of Modena.  Spilamberto is where local guide and podcast favorite, Guilia lives and she tells us all about this in episode 114The celebration is of the start of the process that will go on for a minimum of twelve years to create this amazing product
  • In Perugia, Umbria they have the EuroChocolate. More a festival than a local sagre – this is a whole week dedicated to chocolate. You can go around tasting chocolate and trying all the different types and really artisan-level chocolate where people have spent a lot of time perfecting their craft. Perugia is actually pretty easy to reach from Rome by train. It’s one of those places that you’re going to fall in love with because it’s got a beautiful piazza, little local markets, and just a lovely medieval feel – with the added bonus of this incredible chocolate to try if you visit in October

Booking leave from work

  • Depending on your industry you may find it easier to book leave at this time. Business owners and office managers will know that managing the rush for leave over summer is a real challenge. October is generally light for leave-taking so it can be easier to get your vacation time approved

Where to go

  • All the big cities are a great choice at this time of year, as it’s getting cooler, it’s easier to explore and you can cover more ground before you’re ready to drop. It’s also a great time to visit museums and galleries – you’ll be able to enjoy the art pieces in relative peace and quiet

Piemonte/Piedmont

  • A region in Northern Italy close to France and Switzerland – this is probably our favorite destination in October, thanks to the beautiful colors of the leaves changing on the lakes and hills, the vendemmia (grape harvest), and the White Truffle Festival in Alba. We’ll be heading to Piedmont in late October with a small group of food and wine-loving travelers on one of our small group tours to experience all this amazing region has to offer
  • Turin, the capital of Piedmont, is so easy to get to. It’s just 1 hour from Milan and you step into a whole other world and can just immerse yourself in the food and wine culture of the Piemontese. It’s got a sort of grand, luxurious feel due to its royal past.
  • It’s a beautiful region that is really unsung. We want to show everyone this beautiful region and if you fancied joining us on this trip in October, we have a few spots left – so reach out to Katy at ciao@untoldishly.com and she’s happy to arrange a meeting with you to discuss
  • You can do it on your own or you join a tour, but definitely seek out Piedmont. It’s a gorgeous region and it really comes into its own in October when all the food and wine delicacies that it’s famous for come together (just think Barolo wine with white truffles shaved over pasta)

Sicily

  • It can get very hot down in Sicily – as far south in Italy as you can go, so October makes for a much more temperate environment to enjoy the scenery and outdoor activities, like visiting the Valley of the Temples, which is an absolutely incredible archaeological site near Agrigento. It’s one of those places that it’s quite exposed to the elements, so it’s a perfect time to explore when you have a little bit of sunshine, but not too hot
  • The towns and cities come to life a bit more because people aren’t going so much for a siesta due to the heat. When you visit towns like Noto or Ragusa, you can really experience what it’s like to live as a local in those areas because at this time, most of the visitors have gone and you’re just getting that local feel
  • Katy is going to be in Sicily in October on a joint tour Untold Italy has created with Karen La Rosa from La Rosa Works. They will be exploring all these beautiful towns and villages over 10 days and Katy is particularly excited to go back to Ortygia – the island city which is one of her favorite places on earth. That Sicily tour is all sold out, but if anyone’s interested, do let us know at ciao@untoldishly.com because we are organizing our calendar for next year

Matera

Matera, the cave city, in the Southern Basilicata region of Italy, comes into its own in October, when the temperatures are much cooler and more manageable than in peak summer. The light at this time of year is magical – it just bounces off the buildings. The buildings are all stone colors, so you just get this really nice glow over the city. A perfect time to explore the Sassi caves, maybe stay in a cave hotel and enjoy the wonderful restaurants of the newer (still hundreds of years old) part of town.

Tuscany & Umbria

You have those dramatic landscape changes after vendemmia, the grape harvest and the foliage everywhere changes and as all that hard work for the harvest comes to an end, there’s a whole different pace. Everyone starts to relax and just enjoy living and catching up with friends.

Next door to Tuscany in Umbria, there’s so much gorgeous countryside to explore and enjoy the changing landscapes and watch the leaves changing color. Head to the Perugia Chocolate Festival to enjoy the chocolate of course, but also the city – where there’ll be the chestnuts roasting and new olive oil harvest and news dishes full of all the harvested produce. Umbria is a region that’s really dominated and informed by its connection to the land and so during harvest, when people are engaged and enjoying the fruits of their labor, it’s a really special time of year to visit.

The weather

A question we often see in our Italy Travel Planning Community is “what will the weather be like? In October, as at other times, the only real answer is that no one really knows. There was an unexpected early heatwave this summer, much more extreme and prolonged than usual but you can also get an unexpected storm or cooler spell in a summer month. In October, you are probably going to experience a few more showers than you would in September, but they generally pass quite quickly. We suggest using a weather app like AccuWeather (as we do). It has a rain radar and you can use this to help plan your day around any showers. If it starts raining unexpectedly then you can usually pop into a museum or a lovely cafe or just settle down for a long lunch or even have a nap. Don’t worry about the weather. There’s plenty of sunshine and fun to go around and Italy is great for other cozy activities to enjoy if it gets a little bit misty and damp.

Places mentioned in the show

  • Roscioli – fantastic restaurant in Rome
  • Piazza Navona – beautiful, central piazza in Rome
  • Orvieto – Umbrian hilltop city with a gorgeous cathedral and fascinating past that is an easy stop on the train between Florence and Rome
  • Alba – town famous for truffles and its truffle festival, in the northern Piedmont region
  • Scala – town on the Amalfi Coast that has a yearly chestnut sagre
  • Spilamberto – famous for Balsamico Tradizionale 
  • Turin – capital city of Piedmont. Find out more about the areas fascinating royal history here
  • Agrigento – Valley of the temples – in Sicily, these are a series of well-preserved temples and one of Italy’s most famous archaeological sites
  • Noto – city in Sicily and a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Ragusa –  Sicilian city built on a hill between 2 valleys, Cava San Leonardo and Cava Santa Domenica
  • Ortygia – island city in Sicily, also known as the Città Vecchia (Old City),
  • Matera – known as the cave city, this is a magical and fascinating city in the southern Basilicata region 

Resources

  • Travel with Rezdora – Emelia Romagna guide and food expert Guilia Tamarri
  • KM Zero Tours – Chianti-based tour company run by Arianna and Alessio Cini
  • La Rosa Works  – run by Sicily expert Karen La Rosa. Sicily is Karen’s heritage and her passion
  • AccuWeather – useful site and app for the latest weather forecasts including rain radars

Resources from Untold Italy

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Transcript

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