Leaf-peeping: See autumn's golden shades in Europe

From barefoot mountain hikes to hot air balloon rides and tree-house hotels, Aaron Millar picks out the Continent's best experiences

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The Independent Travel

The long, languorous days of summer are almost gone, but don't despair. The changing of the season heralds the start of one of nature's most spectacular shows, as autumn leaves transform into striking hues of red, amber and yellow. And you don't need to travel to the East Coast of the US to go leaf peeping – some of the most vibrant foliage is within much easier reach, from tree-house hotels in Sweden to balloon rides over Tuscany.

On a cruise

The golden hues of autumn sparkle a little brighter in the fresh arctic light of northern Norway. Take a cruise from Bergen to Kirkenes, above the Arctic Circle, stopping en route to explore the fire coloured foliage of Hjorundfjord, a narrow inlet surrounded by the Sunnmore Alps and yellow fields of chanterelle mushrooms and cloudberries. Hurtigruten (020 3603 6175; hurtigruten.co.uk) offers seven-day Autumn Gold voyages in September and October. The price of £837pp includes full-board accommodation and many activities and excursions. Flights and transfers cost an additional £395pp.

In a tree house

Where better to peep at leaves than suspended in a tree itself? The Treehotel (00 46 9281 0300; treehotel.se) in the remote forests of the Lulea River Valley in northern Sweden, features six individually designed, and utterly eccentric, treehouse cottages including a metallic flying saucer, a hanging mirror cube and a giant bird's nest. But for the very best views opt for The Cabin, which has an outdoor roof deck and floor-to-ceiling windows. Prices start at SEK4,700 (£407) per night, including breakfast.

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Gauja National Park

On a city break

Metropolitan areas may not be first on the list for watching the changing of the leaves, but in the case of Riga, think again. This Latvian city is not only this year's European Capital of Culture but also one of the Continent's most photogenic autumnal spots. Baltic Holidays (0845 070 5711; balticholidays.com) has a four-day break exploring the city's flower-lined Art Nouveau district, castles and cathedrals. Make sure to also visit Gauja National Park nearby, where the explosion of seasonal colour lasts long into October. Prices start at £188pp, including breakfast and a guided tour of the city, but exclude flights.

In a balloon

For panoramic colours, you need to take to the skies. Soar silently 6,000ft (1,800m) above the rolling fields of Tuscany and Lombardy, in northern Italy, watching the pink and amber embers of autumn take hold of the vineyards and villages below. Get Your Guide (020 8816 7248; getyourguide.co.uk) offers one-hour balloon flights departing from Lodi, near Milan, for £203 per person including transfers and a glass of champagne.

With your shoes off

Better than watching golden leaves is crunching them underfoot. That's why the village of Celerina – deep in Switzerland's Engadine Valley, one of the most reliable and riotous displays this side of the Atlantic – has created four barefoot walking trails where boots are banned. Enthusiasts claim increased circulation in the feet improves the immune system and boosts vitality. The Grand Hotel Kronenhof (00 41 818 303 030; kronenhof.com), nearby offers a Golden Autumn Days package between 26 September and 20 October for £275 per night, full board, based on two sharing. Includes use of the hotel's spa facilities.

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