Frequently void of huge crowds found during summer and the holidays, autumn is a wonderful season to travel. Amid generally pleasant early October temperatures, fall foliage dazzles us with colors that evoke childhood memories of a fruit loops bowl. Fall is also a wonderful time of year to join our German friends around the world in raising a glass of beer to celebrate Oktoberfest.
One of my favorite German destinations for autumn foliage, scenic vistas, and hopping eateries is Heidelberg, Germany. Just an hour train ride from Frankfurt, the town is delightfully nestled in a picturesque valley. Hike the philosopher’s trail, on the northern banks of the Neckar River to enjoy a dramatic view overlooking The Karl Theodore Bridge, Old Town, and Heidelberg Castle. Heidelberg University is Germany’s oldest university. It was founded in 1386 on the instruction of Pope Urban VI.
Find a cozy Heidelberg restaurant like Weinstube Schnitzelbank to enjoy a mouth-watering schnitzel and a smooth German brew. Beers in Germany are protected from additives thanks to the Reinheitsgebot. This beer-purity law was introduced in 1516 by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria. The decree allows for only hops, barley, water and yeast to be included in beer. While the decree originally only covered Bavaria, it has been the law throughout Germany for the past century. Rest your head at the charming and centrally located Kulturbrauerie Heidelberg, which is both a hotel and beerhouse.
Across the Atlantic, at a slightly, lower latitude, with an influence from German immigrants, are the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. Located in southwestern Pennsylvania, the Laurel Highlands region is a great vacation destination with outdoor recreation options, historic sites, and wonderful resorts. The state of Pennsylvania is home to 3.5 million people of German ancestry – making it a popular destination for breweries and beer festivals.
My wife and I enjoyed staying at Seven Springs Mountain Resort during their annual autumn festival, which features live music, a petting zoo, goat yoga, artisan vendors, and beer tastings. Guests can enjoy a variety of on-site activities like golf, bowling, rock climbing, zip-lining, and an alpine slide. Their on-site Bavarian Lounge offers sweeping views of the slopes and tasty craft beers from Pennsylvania brewers and beyond.
Seven Springs Golf Course highlights the picturesque beauty of the Laurel Highlands with mountain vistas throughout a tree-lined course atop rolling hills. It is so peacefully walkable that I hardly minded searching for my missing balls around the trees. Sweeping views of autumn foliage offer a dramatic backdrop to an early October round.
Ohiopyle State Park is home to Cucumber Falls. Cascading over a 30-foot drop, they’re one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Pennsylvania. Another popular Laurel Highlands highlight is legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. In 2019, it became the second UNESCO site in Pennsylvania, joining Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.
German settlers built homes and opened businesses throughout the Appalachian Valley. Travel 200 miles south and you’ll arrive at Shenandoah National Park.
Skyline Drive runs the length of Shenandoah National Park, which merges with the Blue Ridge Parkway. A vast network of trails offers picturesque hiking opportunities, including a section of the popular Appalachian Trail. The park includes rocky peaks, waterfalls, and wetlands among its mostly forested terrain. Shenandoah National Park is home to black bears, deer, squirrels, and a variety of birds.
Shenandoah National Park features several great options to stay during a fall visit. Big Meadows Lodge is a rustic lodge offering gorgeous views of the Shenandoah Valley. The lodge features basic rooms to spacious cabins, a delicious on-site restaurant, and even a craft beer taproom.
Staunton is a charming base to explore Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Staunton is home to The American Shakespeare Center, the world’s only recreation of Shakespeares’s Blackfriars Theatre in London. Another highlight of Staunton is the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum.
Downtown Staunton is packed with great independent restaurants, boutique shops, art galleries, and craft breweries. Relax at Red Beard Brewing over a selection of delicious, internationally inspired brews. The Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Blackburn Inn are both great places to stay in Staunton, as they’re part of the Historic Hotels of America.
This October, I’m looking forward to visiting State College, PA, home to Penn State University. Like Heidelberg Germany, Happy Valley is a college town nestled between the mountains. I eagerly await visits of autumn foliage and craft beers to celebrate Oktoberfest.