30 July 2012 by Alex Stewart
Whilst almost every destination has a best time to visit, some places are especially attractive when they are cloaked in spring or autumn colours. With seasonal blooms and blazes of colour often lasting just a short while, timing is everything though. Escape wet weather blues by reading our round-up of where to see seasonal flowers and the arrival of spring. Alternatively, check out where we recommend for the finest Fall colours around the world.
If you think of spring blooms, then the Far East leaps to mind. The season is a cherished time in Japan; the winter chill has said sayonara and parks across the country are awash with the colours of sakura – cherry blossom. They even have a word, sakura zensen, to describe the cherry blossom front as it moves from the tip of the southern islands of Okinawa in early February to the northerly cape of Hokkaido by the end of May. During this time, throughout the country, blossom-viewing celebrations (hanami) are a time-honoured custom, in which families gather on mountain slopes or in city parks to drink sake beneath the falling flowers.
Timing a trip to coincide with these fleeting delicate pinks can be tricky, but the end of March and beginning of April should give you the best chance. Mt Yoshino-yama in Nara, close to Kyoto, with over 30,000 cherry trees, is widely considered the premier spot in the country, but there are dozens more we could recommend.
Matsumae Park in Hokkaido boasts 10,000 cherry trees in 250 varieties, and its Cherry Blossom Festival is especially beautiful. Tokyo’s Ueno Park is another great spot, as are the grounds of the Daigo-ji Temple on Mt Daigo, Kyoto, where the pinks have bloomed among the temple structures for hundreds of years.
Elsewhere in the world there are plenty of other destinations that are blooming marvellous. For instance, see the spring flowers in Vietnam in January, look out for stunning displays of rhododendron blooms in Nepal in April, hunt out orchids in Peru in May, see the desert of Namaqualand in South Africa awash with colour in September or experience spring in New Zealand in October.
The flipside to Japan's spring blooms are the swathes of red and gold momiji maple leaves that cloak the hillsides early in autumn and creep into the cities to appear in parks and gardens throughout the country. The mountains of Daisetsuzan National Park and Hachimantai are amongst the first to turn. The forests around Mt Fuji, Lake Towadako and the Oirase Stream follow and are amongst the most famous autumn leaf spots, whilst Tofukuji is particualrly impressive in November.
However, spactacular displays of fall foliage are most usually associated with North America. Rural America blazes red and gold in autumn. New England in particular is synonymous with the Fall; sugar maples in their autumnal colours are especially spectacular in Vermont. However, whether you explore the alpine valleys of Alaska or stroll through Central Park in New York, you'll encounter spectacular shades in September, when the autumnal colours are at their strongest.
Look out for Japanese maples in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina; red maple and gold cottonwood leaves announce the arrival of fall in Zion National Park in Utah; aspen trees flash yellow against their white bark in Colorado whilst poplars, birches, striped maples and hickories all blaze with yellow and orange fall colours in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.
Alternatively, travel to Eastern Canada and look for fabulous foliage in Alberta's Rocky Mountains or on the slopes of Quebec's Laurentian Mountains. The forests of Algonquin Park in Ontario are at their best at the end of September or early October, whilst the Bruce Peninsula is home to trees that are more than 1,000 years old and are something special to behold during autumn. Early October also sees Cape Breton Island off Nova Scotia bloom with vivacious reds and deep pumpkin oranges; follow the Cabot Trail for the best views. To escape the crowds of fall colour seekers head instead to New Brunswick and dawdle along the Fundy Coastal Drive during the first two weeks of October.