Winning tip: Ham festival, Andalucía, Spain
Every October the town of Aracena, Huelva province, (a 90-minute drive north-west from Seville) hosts the Feria del Jamón Ibéric (Ibérico ham festival) to celebrate its local delicacy. As well as market stalls, exhibits, a ham-cutting competition and the chance to win your weight in ham, the local bars and tavernas offer two tapas for €2 and then stamp your loyalty card allowing you to vote for the best tapas of the festival. If you can’t make the festival, the Ibérico Ham tour runs throughout the year – a guide takes you from farm to fork and shows why the black-footed pig has been considered a delicacy for centuries. The town also has a ham museum.
• In 2017, the festival runs on two consecutive weekends in October (20-22 and 27-29). Ham tours cost €37.50 (under-12s free), last 2½ hours and run at 11am and 4.30pm daily
Sagre in Modena, Emilia Romagna, Italy
You can’t move for sagre (food festivals) in Emilia Romagna in autumn and it’s the perfect place to tour by car or bike, following the strada dei vini e dei sapori (wine and tastes road) which winds through vine-clad hills to little fortified hill towns. Among the best events we have visited are the sagra dell’uva (grape festival, middle two weekends in September) in Castelvetro, where you can try local Lambrusco varieties in the medieval piazza, accompanied by local specialities from tigelle bread with lardo to stuffed pasta. Nearby Spilamberto is not as impressive architecturally but the Mast Còt festival (this weekend) is a fun spectacle celebrating Modena’s balsamic vinegar. The streets are fragrant with the aroma of grape must cooking in the open air, which is the first step to producing the vintage vinegar. There are balsamic vinegar tastings, eateries dish up local specialities and food trucks line the piazza serving a range of dishes featuring the famous aceto. A great place to stay in the vicinity is the Locanda degli Ulivi (doubles from €90 B&B) in Montebudello, where comfy rooms share a pool with a view and there’s a great restaurant serving local classics like tagliatelle al ragù, tortelloni and scaloppine all’aceto balsamico.
Valtellina food and wine festivals, Italy
Tucked into the last fold of the Italian Alps before you hit Switzerland, the Valtellina is gastro heaven in autumn. While the north-facing wall of the valley bristles with sweet chestnuts, the south-facing flank is terraced into tiny patches of flat soil packed with vines, which produce various delicious wines. Sample these on one of several tasting trails, four around the elegant town of Morbegno; or, our favourite, in the lofty stone village of Traona. You follow the marked trail around the cellars, sampling the lovely nebbiolo wines and taking advantage of the excellent nibbles – mostly local cheese and cured meats but also a memorable walnut bread – at each atmospheric venue. The various wine trails in Morbegno run across three weekends in 2017 between 30 September and 15 October. The village wine trails and other foodie events are all worth investigating and Traona has its own info page for its wine trail. Stay at a fabulous agriturismo in the valley near Morbegno, such as La Fiorida (doubles from €160 B&B, including spa access).
Porcini mushrooms, eastern Tuscany, Italy
The Valtiberina is mushroom country and the village markets have mounds of porcini. In the village of Monterchi (25km east of Arezzo) where we bought them, they were brown as conkers and swelling like the Renaissance masterpiece the Madonna del Parto (Pregnant Virgin). Even post-Brexit they are affordable by the kilo and you need little more than a glass of wine and loaf of bread – plus someone to share with – for a wonderful meal. The village restaurant does a fine line in truffles too, as do those in Arezzo and Sansepolcro, where more Piero della Francesca frescoes (like the Madonna) can be found.
Stew and dumplings, Tyrol, Austria
Visit Austria in early autumn and relish the delights of freshly gathered mushrooms in a super stew. The eierschwammerlgulasch made from chanterelles is a delight. Many local restaurants in the Tyrol use these, freshly picked, to cook up a delicious stew served with the local speciality of semmelknödel dumplings. A glass of grüner veltliner (made from a grape variety grown in Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic) provides suitable refreshment. Round this off with an equally seasonal slab of zwetschenkuchen (plum cake) with a generous dollop of whipped cream and the energy used in the mountain walk is quickly replenished. The Tirolerhof hotel and restaurant in Hopfgarten in the Kitzbühel district (doubles from €75 B&B) is a great place to stay and to eat.
Autumn pintxos, San Sebastían, Spain
San Sebastián’s famous pintxos reflect the seasons, and last autumn we gorged on those topped with delicious, locally foraged wild mushrooms. The bar tops in the Parte Vieja (old town) groan with the weight of pintxos and every bar has a different offering, so you never have to eat the same type twice.
• Road trip from San Sebastian to Valencia
Seasonal delights, Scottish Highlands
Scotland is at its best in autumn, and nowhere more so than at the Monachyle Mhor hotel and restaurant (doubles from £195 B&B) at the end of Balquhidder Glen, an hour’s drive north-west of Stirling. The drive there, along the banks of Lochs Voil and Doine, is luminous, the colours of the surrounding trees and hillsides rich and almost fluorescent in the sunshine – and the food from the family’s farm and surrounding land shines equally in the hands of accomplished chefs who fully understand the seasons. Locally stalked venison and game; home-grown beetroot, swede, celeriac; freshly foraged mushrooms and berries; and much more, appear in delicious and creative dishes in this romantic yet convivial location.
Helsinki herring festival, Finland
Each October the Finnish capital hosts a week-long herring festival, which dates back several hundred years, in the Market Square on the waterfront. This year it runs from 1-7 October. The festival not only celebrates the herring but the fishermen who catch them and marks the end of summer. Fishermen come from all over Finland, and there’s a real festive feel. When we went, all Helsinki seemed to be there: cafes and stalls were set up (alongside herring, you will see knitted hats and socks, jams, dried meats), there was live music and a huge rowing race (with the proceeds going to environment charities). When you’ve had enough herring or it’s getting too cold, walk over to the covered old market hall with its coffee shops, delis, bars and bistros.
St Dogmaels market, Pembrokeshire, Wales
The coastal market in St Dogmaels, Pembrokeshire, shifts up a gear in autumn as seasonal produce fills the stalls. Delicious, vibrant hedgerow jams, heritage vegetables and tangerine squashes and rare varieties of apples dating from medieval times from the villagers’ gardens, sit side by side with locally caught Cardigan Bay shellfish. This is the best time to eat the local crab as the females are full of roe, making the crab meat red and rich; the fresh prawns, meanwhile, are meaty and tender. This weekly market is a delight for anyone interested in local foods who also wants to explore the stunning Welsh coastline.
• Market runs Tuesdays 9am-1pm, welshcountry.co.uk
Bucharest isn’t one of the most talked-about cities in Europe but it is a really beautiful place and the Romanian food is perfect for warming you up on crisp autumn days. I ate at one of the city’s oldest restaurants, the beautiful Caru cu Bere, and the food was absolutely incredible. But best of all, it only cost me about £2.50!