September "Shoulder Season" a perfect time to check out these world spots ...
We had a story in the paper on Saturday from Pauline Frommer, talking about the joys of "shoulder season." It's the time of year that started about, oh, eight hours ago here in Toronto; those days right after Labour Day when the kids are back in school and the crowds of tourists suddenly diminish.
Think about it; a huge pool of potential tourists has suddenly been pulled off the market. If you have kids aged four to 18, chances are you're at home this week. If you ARE a kid of that age, or you're in college or university, chances are you're in school. So that means maybe half the potential tourism population of our fair city is unavailable for an overseas sojourn, at least in the middle of the week.
So the crowds will be down at the Uffizi in Florence and outside the Opera House in Sydney. The good tee times will be easier to get at the golf course in Banff or beautiful Kananaskis. Weather also is a factor in making September a great travel month. It's cooling down in northern Europe and in the Canadian Rockies, but it's still not winter coat time. In the Canadian Maritimes, it's still warm enough for the beach. And if you're a swimmer, the water should still be relatively warm in Muskoka or Lake Huron; as long as the nights don't get too chilly.
With all that in mind, here's a list of a few personal favourite spots around the world that would be ideal this month:
San Francisco: Most years (not all, but most) September is the finest month of all in this city by the bay. The fog tends to have disappeared by now and rain is extremely rare. It's a great time to take a driving tour through Golden Gate Park and across the bridge to Marin County, where you'll get killer views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Check out fun shops in the Haight-Ashbury area or cool bars in the Mission District or Hayes Valley. Head up to Alamo Square (at left) to see the "painted ladies." Try a ferry boat ride to Sausalito for fine bridge views and glimpses of Alcatraz. You can expect temperatures in the low 20's, but it's usually much much warmer than that in places like the Napa Valley. The magical Monterey Peninsula is only about two hours from San Francisco International. Check out my personaly favourite beach town of Capitola and also don't miss Pacific Grove, with its fine Victorian B and B's and old-fashioned main street. Passionfish serves great seafood.
Eastern Canada: Newfoundland is a personal favourite, with some of the nicest people on the planet. St. John's has a growingly sophisticated food scene, and with the kids gone back to school it should be easier to get a chair at the more popular pubs on George St. Looking for something a little closer to home? Halifax has a wonderful waterfront with great markets, shops and restaurants. The downtown has cool architecture and great food at places like Press Gang. And more than a few nice bars, including Economy Shoe Shop on lively Argyle St.
Slovenia: I like to call this "The Tiny, Perfect Country." It's wedged between Italy, Croatia, Austria and Hungary and has wonderful elements of all of those places. The coastline city of Piran has marvellous seaside promenades and cafes and red-tiled roofs along the Adriatic, plus Italian and Croatian food. The mountains near the Austrian border are gloriously ragged and sharp, with marvellous drives and killer views. The city of Ljubljana (at right) feels a bit like a miniature Salzburg, with a small castle on a hill and a pretty river that's also lined with smart cafes. There's tons of history and, again, really good food. The interior has good wine growing areas, remarkable caves and rolling countryside with spas and fine hotels and restaurants. Oh, and don't forget Lake Bled, with its magical views of churches and castles and an emerald-green lake and mountains and romantic boats and its wonderfully rich creme pastries. A mighty impressive package.
New York: It can be unbearable in the heat of summer. But the heat starts to dissipate a little about now, and the teeming hordes from Ohio and Ontario have mostly gone away. Take a harbour cruise. Meander over the Brooklyn Bridge to check out fine, emerging neighbourhoods. Check out the fashionable and trendy Lower East Side for cutting edge food and drinks. Walk the expanded High Line Park. Take a walk in Central Park or take in a show. There's a million things to do in the Big Apple and it's a great time to go.
British Columbia: Again, fine weather this time of year; mostly cool and dry. Victoria and Vancouver shine in late summer, as does Tofino and pretty much all of Vancouver Island. It's also a great time to check out the Okanagan region. Osoyoos is warm and dry this time of year, with fabulous wineries nestled into dusty country filled with cactus and rocky outcroppings that feel more like Arizona than Canada. Further north, near Kelowna, Mission Hills winery (at left) has a wonderful Marc Chagall tapestry and a fabulous restaurant with beautiful views over the vineyards and down to Okanagan Lake. Wonderful golf opportunites abound, and there are fine hotels along the lake in Kelowna and terrific restaurants in town and at the wineries.
The Greek Islands: It should be starting to cool down a touch, and with the crowds gone you'll have a lot more breathing room than in July or August. I love Paros, with its old-fashioned, white buildings and simple, blue doors and pink or red flowers. Rent a moped and zip around the island for some marvellous views, pull up a chair at a seaside cafe and watch the sun go down. Or try one of the many beaches, some fairly rocky but others reasonably smooth. Beautiful water for swimming. Also popular are Naxos and of course Mykonos and Santorini. If you're in Athens and only have a day or two, try a quick trip to Hydra, where they don't allow cars and there are marvellous cafes and walking trails along the Mediterranean.
Down Under: It's almost spring in the southern hemisphere, which makes it a fine time to head down that way. I don't know South America, but I'll vouch for Australia and New Zealand for sure. The weather will still be a little cool in Melbourne and maybe Sydney, but the northern parts of Australia and New Zealand will be starting to shake off the cool temperatures quite soon. The Bay of Islands region of New Zealand (see photo at right, taken from the fabulous Kauri Cliffs golf club and resort) is breathtakingly beautiful; with small islands nestled into green-blue waters and a real tropical feel. In Brisbane, Australia, you can expect average high temperatures in the low to mid 20's this time of year; just perfect for the beach or city exploring. I haven't seen a lot of Queensland but had a fabulous time on Dunk Island following the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Even if the weather's a tad cool, it's still hard to beat Sydney for its combination of beaches, food, iconic architecture and shopping.