Pick of the season - top places to head for European harvest

Across Europe, harevst is a time of celebration for rural communties, when age-old traditions come to life. Time a trip to allow these festivities to draw you in like a local. Words by Ben McCormack.

Apples Beuvron-en-Auge, France

Together with that early autumnal crispness comes a hum of activity throughout Normandy. First you notice the arrival of creamy tarte normande in patisserie windows and the apple-scent of chicken Normandy signalling a seasonal shift. Then stacks of polished apples start to appear at farmers’ markets – beautiful names like fréquin rouge, noël des champs and reine des reinettes indicating the pride taken in the 800 different varieties grown throughout this part of northern France.

With the climate unsuited to wine, it’s little surprise that orchards became integral to the area – and with it the tradition of French cider, calvados and pommeau (an oak-aged apéritif made from apple juice and Calvados). It remains big business for the small producers and market towns dotted throughout the region – and nowhere is this demonstrated better than in Beuvron-en-Auge.

Come October, the 200-strong population is bolstered in the village, otherwise known for being among the ‘most beautiful’ in France. The timber-framed houses, adorned with overflowing flower boxes, create a dreamlike backdrop to the Fête du Cidre, held this year on 22 October. Revellers flock to the press installed in the square, where there’s music, drinking, folk dancing – rumours even of ponies being baptised.

Few aspects of French life give as vivid a taste for la France profonde as its rural fairs, and those along the Pays d’Auge’s ‘Cider Route’ are no different. What’s more, by providing a structure of cider producers to visit, it provides an excuse to meander down country lanes and soak up the mellow atmosphere of orchards turning golden in the gentle autumn sun in a landscape that looks just as vivid as when the Impressionists painted it 150 years ago.

Au P’tit Normand
Don’t leave the area without a trip to nearby Cambremer for classics like entrecote with Camembert sauce in the dinkiest of dining rooms. Three courses from £25. Place de l’Église, Cambremer, 00 33 2 3132 0320,

Le Pavé d’Auge Chef Jérôme Bansard delights with creative Norman dishes. Three courses from £65pp. Le Bourg, Beuvron-en-Auge, 00 33 2 3179 2671,

Le Pavé d’Hôtes Down the road, Jérôme’s wife Sophie oversees an equally charming bed and breakfast. Doubles from £98 including breakfast. 15 rue Michel d’Ornano, Beuvron-en-Auge, 00 33 2 3139 3910,

Le Pressoir For an immersive stay, bag one of the two rooms in this converted 17th-century cider press. Doubles from £84. 2 allée des Vignes, Beuvron-en-Auge, 00 33 6 8329 4252


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Chestnuts Fully, Switzerland

Before the snow starts to settle in the Alps, Geneva serves as a launchpad for a very different type of travel. Those in the know wind into the foothills, guided by the scent of chestnut groves hanging in the air and a hunger for the sweet nut, ready to be foraged from the forest floor. It’s in Switzerland’s sunniest and driest southern cantons – Ticino and Valais – that chestnuts are most deeply ingrained in the cuisine. In the past, harsh conditions and poor soil meant conventional crops were hard to cultivate and when chestnuts thrived they were ground into flour and used as a replacement for cereals. But these days, far from being seen as ‘the tree of the poor’, they’re considered something of a culinary delicacy: there’s brisolée (hot chestnuts served with meats and cheese), glazed chestnuts, traditional cakes and vermicelles, a puréed chestnut mousse often served with meringues and cream.

No surprise that, come October, hungry foragers can be found tramping through the forests collecting chestnuts that have fallen to the forest floor and split open. Things reach a peak mid- October (this year, 14-15) when the mountain village of Fully hosts
a festival in which 10 tonnes of chestnuts are eaten in two days. As well as 300 stands, there’s a 1.5km trail that winds through the woods, with a roaster on hand to cook the foraged chestnuts. With 200g chestnuts produced per 1m sq, you can expect a deliciously contagious sense of generosity and abundance that sees people return year on year to mark the onset of the season.

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André Roduit & Fils The winemakers draw a crowd with the chestnut brisolée at their vineyard tastings from September to November (Thurs-Sun), so book ahead. Wine tasting with selection of cured meats, cheeses and brisolée, coffee and dessert £62pp. Chemin des Claives 20, Fully, 00 41 27 746 1259,

Colline de Daval Drink in stunning Alpine views from one of five bedrooms in a converted water tower. Doubles from £94. Colline de Daval 5, Sierre, 00 41 27 458 4515,

La Ferme du Soleil Verbier The husband-and-wife team are a winning formula, with Blaise overseeing the farm and Viviane heading up the kitchen. Three courses from £60pp. Route des Marais 23, Verbier, 00 41 22 565 4070,

Rêves Gourmands Hôtellerie & Gastronomie Food lovers are tempted by four-course ‘surprise’ dinners showcasing Swiss produce and local wines. Doubles from £152 including breakfast; evening meal, bookable in advance, from £70pp. Rue des Sondzons 22, Vernayaz, 00 41 27 764 3030,

Olives Caimari, Mallorca, Spain

It’s unclear whether the gnarled and twisted trunks of ancient olive trees prop up the stone wall terraces – or whether it’s the other way round. Either way, the Biblical surroundings in Mallorca’s rugged and romantic interior feel like a world away from the vibey hotels and familiar coastline that lure tourists to the Balearic Islands.

The absence of chains and international visitors only fuels that feeling of time standing still. There remains a deep agricultural tradition – particularly as the farming methods and seasonal rhythms have endured, and olives remain the main harvest, as was the case 800 years ago. Nets and poles are still used to get the fruit from the trees and, on occasions, a donkey might be seen walking in a circle to power stone olive rollers.

There’s no better place to become immersed in this ancient and authentic Mallorcan way of life than Caimari. The village lies in the sun-baked foothills of the Sierra de Tramuntana mountains, northeast of the capital. It’s all terracotta-tiled roofs and ancient winding alleyways with a weekly food market showcasing the seasonal harvest: first, small green olives that start appearing in October, and then a month later the black panssides, which are left to ripen for longer, creating a dark, wrinkled skin and distinct intensity.

By the Fira de s’Oliva fair (third weekend in November), the harvest is in full swing and the narrow streets are packed with stands selling olives in all different guises: black and green, flavoured with herbs, garlic, citrus; cold-pressed oil; pickled olives; and olive breads. As the onset of seasons sees northern European food becoming increasingly beige, that olive intensity becomes even more vibrant – and the festivities that unfurl long into the warm night at the olive-leaf carpeted plaza seem even more euphoric.

Ca No Toneta
A great local dinner spot run by sisters Maria and Teresa – it’s a true family affair with various relations contributing olives, oil and other produce to the tasting menus. Six-course tasting menu from £50pp. Carrer de s’Horitzó 21, Caimari,
00 34 971 51 52 26,

Finca Albellons An oasis amid wild landscape 3km outside Caimari with four-poster loungers by the pool – perfect post-hike in the surrounding mountains. Olive oil is made on site, while oranges and apricots go into the breakfast jam. Doubles from £225 including breakfast. Binibona, Caimari, 00 34 971 87 50 69,

Petit Caimari A low-key option just off the town square, with eight simply furnished rooms, original stone walls and beamed ceilings. Doubles from £92 including breakfast. Carrer de s’Horitzó 14, Caimari, 00 34 603 86 50 50,

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Porcini mushrooms Albareto, Italy

More than any other ingredient, the mushroom has the ability to turn people wild. Perhaps it’s the exquisite, earthy taste of porcini or maybe it’s the rarity and sense of exclusivity. Regardless, the foraging season is a firm date in many gastronome’s diary and northern Italy is the place to go.

Among the green Apennine hills of beech and fir that form the spine of Emilia-Romagna, locals have been expertly managing the woods for centuries, creating a microclimate suitable for the fruiting of porcini and prizing them as a fresh delicacy to feast on every autumn. Hundreds of mushroom hunters take to the hills every September and October with the hope of returning with a full basket. For anyone not in possession of the mushroom forager’s official card, the Fiera Nazionale del Fungo Porcino di Albareto is a three-day party celebrating the porcini mushroom held annually at the end of September (this year, 29 September - 1 October).

It all happens in the small, rural town of Albareto – south-west of Parma, amid rolling hills where castles and churches abound. There is a packed itinerary of demonstrations, mycology (the study of fungi) lessons, food and wine tastings. What’s more, most local restaurants put on special menus to celebrate the seasonal harvest, serving-up dishes that are unrecognisable from anything using the dried packets of porcini mushrooms found in supermarkets – and easily justifying a delicious jaunt.

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Casa delle Erbe Grab one of the eight tables reserved for guests at this vegetarian agriturismo – they work wonders with Albareto’s porcini. Three-course meal from £25. Doubles from £83. Località Pieve di Campi 60, Albareto, 00 39 339 254 4184,

Funghi e Fate Guests at the B&B can join a mushroom-picking tour in the surrounding woodland. Doubles from £47 including breakfast. Località Gotra 7, Albareto, 00 39 328 215 1262,

Il Noce d’Oro Another ‘back to nature’ option, sitting within centuries-old chestnut, oak and walnut woods. Doubles from £103. Località Il Fornello 26, Frazione di San Martino, Borgo Val di Taro, 00 39 335 682 2349,

La Peschiera Try the freshest trout with mushrooms at this lakeside spot, open Fri-Sun. Three-course meal from £25. Località La Peschiera 182, Albareto, 00 39 366 731 6228,

Seafood Setúbal, Portugal

With many of Portugal’s coastal towns built around fishing, seafood remains a major draw to the country long after the summer sun-seekers have departed. No one knows this better than Setúbal. Not for nothing does it call itself Terre de Peixe, ‘Land of the Fish’: marine-themed statues dot the palm-shaded streets and most days fishermen can be seen unloading their catch on the quayside, preparing it for cabinets that tempt diners into harbourfront restaurants or for the marble slabs at the elegantly tiled covered fish market.

Time your visit to coincide with one of many year-round fish festivals the town celebrates (from mackerel to cuttlefish and shellfish – they all have their moment) and you won’t have to wander too far to find the freshest catch. Some 50 restaurants participate and put on special menus, all washed down with the best of the local albariño pours.

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Travel Details


Pousada Castelo Palmela It’s worth the 15-minute drive out of Setúbal for the epic views from this converted 15th-century monastery. Doubles from £128. Castelo de Palmela, 2950-317 Palmela, 00 351 21 235 1226,

34 Guest House Located in the centre of town, nine elegantly decorated rooms provide calm from the bustle. Doubles from £81 including breakfast. Avenida dos Combatentes da Grande Guerra 34, Setúbal, 00 351 265 092 116,

Tasca da Fatinha Horse mackerel and fried cuttlefish are the specialities here. Three courses from £25. Avenida José Mourinho 58, Setúbal, 00 351 265 232 800,

Xtoria Near Setúbal’s fish market, the cured mackerel alone is worth the stop. Three-course meal from £35. Rua Guilherme Gomes Fernandes 17, Setúbal, 00 351 961 284 144,

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