A TRAVELLER'S CALENDAR; SEPTEMBER

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The Independent Culture
THE GREAT technicolour spectacular of Fall is just beginning in New England, an explosion of glorious golds, vibrant reds and fiery orange, while in southern Africa, the wildlife is gathering photogenically around the waterholes as the dry season comes to an end. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness it may be, but holidaymakers are still spoilt for choice.

On the Mediterranean, temperatures are nudging 75F - perfect for combining active sightseeing with sunbathing. There's more than a dash of history to be had on the Amalfi coast of Italy; you can visit Pompeii and intimate, poignant Herculaneum, climb to the gurgling lip of Vesuvius, linger in ravishing Ravello, gasp at the views from Tiberius's villa on Capri, or take a less well-trodden route to the green and pleasant island of Ischia. As a beach base, Positano is chic. Amalfi itself has the pomp that befits the former capitol of a marine republic, while Sorrento (in part due to the song "Come Back to Sorrento" which had nothing to do with the beauty of the place) has been a packaged spot for decades.

There are more locals than international crowds in Taormina's Corso Umberto, a little high street suspended 750ft above the Medi-terranean in Sicily. Here, there's the patina of more than 2,000 years of conquering Greeks, Romans, Spaniards and Normans; not to mention indefatigable Victorian travellers and, of late, artists and film stars. All have left behind their own cultural heritage.

When you've exhausted the delights of this little living museum, fine new roads can speed you to grander monuments: the Valley of Temples at Agrigento, the Greek and Roman theatres of Syracuse.

Over on the coast of Turkey, Kas, Kalkan and Olu Deniz shed their summer hordes, their sites looking even more spectacular in the mellow autumn sunlight.

In Spain, September is the month to head inland from the Costa del Sol's fleshpots to the great Andalusian trio - Granada, Seville and Cordoba. Alternatively, drive through the hills to the extraordinary town of Ronda, leaving the 20th century behind as you follow the smugglers' routes between the little white towns (pueblos blancos) of Benelauria, Algotocin, Gaucin and Casares.

Stateside, you can't go wrong in New England between mid-September and mid-October; the autumn landscape is magical. There are even toll-free "foliage phones" to direct you to where oaks and maples, beech and birch are at their most glorious. Northerly Maine's trees are the first to blaze into colour, then the show moves south to the forests of New Hampshire and surrounds the church spires and white clapboard villages of Vermont.

For tourers, traditional inns make a change from the ubiquitous American motels, while log cabins, little farmhouses and clapboard cottages are available for rent for self-catering holidaymakers.

BOOKING INFORMATION

Italy: Air Fares (0171-707 9000) has return charter flights to Naples from pounds 150.

Turkey: fly to Dalaman for pounds 230 return, booking through Air Fares (number above).

Spain: fares to Malaga from pounds 175 return, also through Air Fares (number above).

Sicily: inclusive holidays to Taor-mina are available from Magic of Italy (0181-748 7575), prices from pounds 512 each in hotel b&b, from pounds 492 each self- catering with three sharing, both inclusive of flights and for seven nights.

New England: return flights to Boston are available for pounds 225-pounds 250 from STA Worldwide (0171-361 6262). Two weeks self-catering for pounds 650-pounds 950 per person booking through New England Country Homes (01328 856660), inclusive of flights, self-drive car hire, maps and the first night in a Boston hotel.

A TRAVELLER'S CALENDAR

OCTOBER

THIS MONTH marks the beginning of the real traveller's season, with low prices, round-the-world offers and the end of summer opening up trekking destinations like Nepal, Vietnam and China. Closer to home, it can be moody in the northern Mediterranean, but it's still shirtsleeves weather on the southern coasts. The clean dry air and 86-93F temperatures of North Africa and the Middle East make them ideal now, while Thailand and Malaya are getting the wet stuff, and much of the Caribbean is closed for spring cleaning before the start of the Christmas season.

In Europe, it pays to head south for late sun. Cyprus is a good bet; Ayia Napa has the best beaches and nightlife but is a long way from anything else that's interesting. The resort of Paphos has been named a Cultural Heritage town, though the beaches are narrow and gritty. There's also Polis on the west coast, once the ancient flourishing city of Marion, or some really quiet but atmospheric beaches at Pissouri and Ayios Georgios - the latter with a tiny harbour, one taverna, a clutch of ruined Byzantine churches and not much else.

Settled weather attracts divers and snorkellers to Eilat, the Israeli Red Sea resort that's hideous above the water, but fascinating beneath. But what a centre for excursions - to Mount Sinai and St Catherine's Monastery in one direction, to the Zealot fortress of Masada and the health-giving waters of the Dead Sea in the other. Bethlehem, Jeru-salem and Jericho are within reach and, best of all, Aqaba - Eilat's twin city across the now open Jordanian border - and the Nabatean-Roman wonder of the world at Petra, a two-day trip across the desert.

For a more autumnal experience, Europe's countryside is richly rewarding when the wine harvests draw to their close and funghi forays start up in the woods. The end of summer's dusty lease turns into brilliantly hued autumn in Tuscany, as Romans open up their villas for wild-boar hunting. There's room to move in the mountain-top eyries of Volterra and San Gimignano.

Lower fares at the end of summer (and, best of all, round-the-world tickets) see the start of the real travellers' season. This is the time to explore Nepal (where Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light, marks the beginning of both the Hindu new year and the trekking season in the Himalayas), or perhaps to overland from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi now that Vietnam is on the regular tourist beat. Then catch the Great Wall of China before it is buffeted by fierce winter winds from Siberia; and as the country opens up for independent holidays, fly to the port of Shanghai and Xian in Shangxi Province for the ghostly terracotta army sculpted around 200BC - and there are still thousands of miles to go on that round-the-world ticket.

BOOKING INFORMATION

Cyprus: flights for pounds 265 from Air Fares (0171-707 9000). Accom-modation in restored village houses and tavernas from Cyprus Tourist Office (0171- 734 9822).

Eilat: flights approximately pounds 179 from STA Worldwide (0171-361 6262). Hotel packages from Thomson (0171-707 9000).

Tuscany: flights to Pisa about pounds 154 from STA Europe (0171-361 6161). Independent Tuscan walks (with luggage transported), half-board around pounds 600 a week: Sherpa Expe-ditions (brochures 0181-577 7187, reservations 0181-577 2717).

Round the world tickets: from pounds 800-pounds 1,400 depending on routes and stopovers, valid for one year from: Campus Travel (0171-730 2101); STA Worldwide (0171-361 6262); Trailfinders (0171-938 3366); Austravel (0171-838 1011).

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