From film festivals and street parties to football games and balloon rides, our writers find there is more to celebrate in fall than pumpkins and foliage.
SAN SEBASTIÁN, SPAIN: Discover film world glamour amid resort grandeur Fall arrives smack in the middle of the San Sebastián International Film Festival, but it’s certain to look like summer on the beaches of this elegant Atlantic coast resort near the French border. Opening its 57th edition on Sept. 18, the festival is the perfect excuse to go to the movies, laze around on nearly four miles of beaches, and eat Spain’s best and most inventive small dishes in the bars. When Napoleon sacked and burned the city in 1813, he inadvertently did the Basques a favor. They rebuilt the old port as a glamorous belle époque resort that’s been devoted ever since to stylish hedonism.
Star-spotting along the beachfront promenade is always a top sport at the festival, where tickets run only $8 to $9.50 for most screenings of films in a babel of world languages. Some blockbusters are shown in the 3,000-seat bicycle racing stadium, while major competition screenings take place in the Kursaal, a dramatic modern exhibition center designed by Rafael Moneo. Literally next to the Kursaal is Zurriola beach, favored by surfers and minimally clad sun worshipers, and across the street is the Gros neighborhood, location of the city’s finest pintxos (tapas) bars. San Sebastián International Film Festival, Sept. 18-26, www.sansebastianfestival.com. Tickets available in person or beginning Sept. 14 on the Internet.
PATRICIA HARRIS AND DAVID LYON
YBOR CITY, FLA.: Meet Mama Guava “I see a great party in your future.’’ That’s the costume theme for a giant annual street fest known as Guavaween being held Oct. 31 in Florida’s historic cigar city. Up to 100,000 people come to put on the glitz, wear out their stilettos, and parade down 7th Avenue with Mama Guava in the Stumble Parade. Whether or not you win the $1,000 prize for originality, it’s a party for sure.
A well-organized gay community has opened new eateries and entertainment venues and Ybor’s balconied architecture and 3 a.m. last calls invite comparisons to Bourbon Street in New Orleans. After the party, take the Ybor City Museum walking tour ($8), chow down with college students and NFL stars at The Laughing Cat, and get a barber clip while puffing a stogie at King Corona Café & Bar. Ybor even has a new Ikea, Florida’s largest.
For what to wear, take a cue from Mama Guava, who one year appeared on a litter borne by bare-chested men who dropped her, splitting open her costume. On purpose. Guavaween admission $25, 813-242-4828 or 813-248-0721, www.cc-events.org/gw.
BERLIN: Celebrate the fall of the wall Already one of Europe’s top night life destinations, the German capital is gearing up for a huge party to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall on Nov. 9. The high point of the festivities will occur in front of the Brandenburg Gate with the city’s unique blend of the sublime and the absurd: Maestro Daniel Barenboim and the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in an outdoor concert while Mayor Klaus Wowereit knocks over the first of 1,000 giant dominoes lined up where the wall stood. www.mauerfall09.de.
BORDEAUX, FRANCE: Sample a novel approach to French wine Traveling in wine country this fall? Check out one of the newest, and either one of the most unique or most out-of-place attractions in Bordeaux: La Winery. “French men feel like they’re born knowing wine . . . or they’re supposed to,’’ says Pascal Babeau, Winery communications director. “But so often we feel like imbeciles in the tasting room. This place is made for people who don’t know wines.’’ Some say it’s about time. For better or worse, French wineries don’t have an American-style open-door policy for visitors. At many you have to call ahead to set up an appointment to visit. Now, they are playing catch-up. “The US figured [wine tourism] out - even Spain and Italy did - but France is way behind,’’ says Arnaud Plard, Winery sommelier. The Winery is completely out of step with Bordeaux tradition. The building is modern, the tastings use more of a “I like it/I don’t like it’’ approach to build a simple, personalized profile that can be taken to the shop and later to the table of The Winery’s restaurant, Le WY. Some French and connoisseurs balk at the gimmicky approach, but in 2008 - The Winery’s first full year - 50,000 people passed through its doors. “It works because it’s atypical. People come here because they’ve seen two or three vineyards and want something else,’’ says Babeau. “If we weren’t different, nobody would come.’’ Rond Point des Vendangeurs, Départementale 1, 33460 Arsac en Médoc, 011-33-5-56-39-04-90, www.winery.fr.
LINDOS, GREECE: Go from beach to temple in a day You can extend the lazy days of summer well into fall on the island of Rhodes. Once the tourist crowds and buses clear out of this popular town, Lindos reveals itself as a relaxing destination. Located along a rocky protuberance on the island’s eastern flank, about 25 miles from the capital city (also named Rhodes), Lindos is the perfect spot to finish that novel you began in July. With daytime temperatures reaching the mid-70s, there are plenty of beach chairs and umbrellas available for rent along its crystalline cove. For lunch, enjoy grilled fish and a beer, or a chilled glass of white wine made from local Athiri grapes at the beachside taverna, Dolphins. In the medieval town above, explore tangled stone-paved streets where whitewashed buildings are filled with restaurants and touristy trinket shops. Nighttime temps fall to the mid-60s, cooling things down for an evening hike up a steep stone path to the ancient acropolis, 400 feet above the sea. (The less ambitious can ride a donkey.) Here, in addition to a breathtaking Aegean panorama, you can tour the remnants of the Temple of Athena, built in the 6th century BC. www.rodosisland.gr.
REYKJAVÍK, ICELAND: Delight in the ultimate light show In a 2007 survey conducted by the University of Iceland, 64 percent of citizens polled had some belief in “alfar,’’ or elves. That is perhaps not surprising in a country where the landscape seems alive, where volcanoes, geysers, and waterfalls abound. Of all the bewitching natural phenomena here, the northern lights, or aurora borealis, are among the most spectacular. Iceland is one of the world’s best locales to see this display and September marks the beginning of prime viewing, which continues through March. Haukur Parelius of Nature Explorers tours in Reykjavík says, “What’s needed is a clear sky and darkness. Tour operators don’t have a secret place to go to or any tricks to ‘turn them on,’ but of course we have a few places outside the city which are dark and away from light pollution.’’ The country is a magnet for photographers looking for a little night magic. Icelandair offers the only direct flight from Boston, www.icelandair.us/offers-and-bookings. Nature Explorers is one of several companies that offer private tours (2 1/2-3 hours) to see the northern lights. www.natureexplorer.is/photography/northern-lights-aurora-borealis.
ALBUQUERQUE: Up, up, and away To truly appreciate the grand spectacle of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s largest hot air balloon event, you must wake up before dawn and walk the grounds. Propane burners are pumping up hundreds of balloons at once, no doubt waking anyone sleeping within a one-mile radius. Then the wicker baskets start to skid along the ground and soon row after row of the colorful balloons take to the sky in the Mass Ascension. Not simply the recognizable orb the wizard used to fly above Oz, but balloons shaped like chili peppers, Snoopy, even Jesus. The Rio Grande Valley and surrounding Sandia Mountains create a wind condition coined the Albuquerque Box, which is perfectly suited for ballooners. After snapping more shots than paparazzi at a Brady/Bundchen sighting, sign up for your own ascent through Rainbow Ryders and spend the day enjoying the local New Mexican fare and crafts at the many vendors. At night, wander through the tethered, glowing balloons, visit the rodeo, and look up again to see fireworks. This year’s event is scheduled Oct. 3-11. A $25 five-pack admits you to five sessions. www.balloonfiesta.com.
PINE ISLAND, FLA.: Paddle through Old Florida Located just 30 minutes west of Fort Myers and off most tourist radar, Pine Island doesn’t have a single beach to its name. Ditto for high rise development, theme parks, and the typical chain stores. But its Old Florida appeal is undeniable, both for the 9,000 year-round residents of the 17-mile-long island, and for the savvy visitors who come calling. Besides a plethora of wildlife and a no-frost tropical clime, Pine Island is also home to the annual Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival, taking place this year Oct. 23-Nov. 1. Hundreds of paddlers, competitors, and outdoor enthusiasts convene to follow in the wake of the Calusa Indians, who first paddled along the pristine coastline. Pine Island is at the northernmost point of the Blueway’s 190 miles of marked water trails that start in Bonita Springs, and offer meandering views of leggy wading birds, mangrove tunnels, and sugar-sand beaches. The island’s section of the trail brings you within splashing distance of the artsy small town of Matlacha (mat-luh-SHAY), with its funky waterfront galleries and restaurants. Order some just-caught fish, blackened, broiled, fried, or grilled, at Olde Fish House, a waterfront market that serves food Thursday through Sunday on the shaded patio. Or grab a cold one at Bert’s Bar, where you can sample the best smoked smelt in all of Lee County. The Olde Fish House, 4530 Pine Island Road, 239-282-9588. Bert’s Bar, 4271 Pine Island Road, 239-282-3232. www.fortmyers-sanibel.com, www.calusabluewaypaddlingfestival.com.
TOFINO, BRITISH COLUMBIA: Be one with Vancouver Island’s West Coast The west coast of the island is an area of pristine and rugged beauty, rimmed with old growth rain forests, where towering trees rise from mossy floors into the mist. Fast-flowing rivers tumble down majestic mountains to meet the crashing waves of the pearl-grey Pacific. Black bears can be seen turning rocks over on the shoreline, and eagles eyed high in the treetops. The area has been home for thousands of years to the Nuu-chah-nulth people, whose philosophy of “hishuk ts’ awalk,’’ or “everything is one,’’ is very much in evidence. The town of Tofino is in the center of Clayoquot Sound, an 865,000 acre UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and abuts the Pacific Rim National Park with almost 125,000 acres of land and ocean. Tofino is remote, but home to sophisticated cuisine and funky galleries. If Mother Nature’s showing off isn’t enough to captivate you, fall is festival season here. Events run from the beginning of September through the end of November, celebrating a wide range of interests, including maritime culture, film, beer, oysters, and mushrooms. www.tofinotime.net, www.tofino-bc.com, www.tofinotime.com/events.