Best Times to Travel: Destinations in Bloom

Lavender fields and blue skies in Provence, France. Photo by Frommers.com Community
By Laura Kiniry

Provence, France, awash in the light purple hue of lavender. Holland's vast tulip fields. These annual events are big tourist draws for a reason. But if you don't know when and where to see nature's best seasonal attractions, chances are you won't -- the best blooms, leaf turnings, and harvest seasons can last just a few weeks.

From Costa Rica to Tuscany, here are 10 destinations in bloom that you won't want to miss.

Photo Caption: Lavender fields and blue skies in Provence, France. Photo by AndyW/Frommers.com Community.
Chianti grapes growing near Florence. Photo by francesco sgroi
When to Go: Late September through October

Tuscany comes alive during grape harvest season (known as the Vendemmia) with dozens of festivals and feasts taking place in villages and public squares throughout the region.

Where to Celebrate the Grape Harvest Season in Tuscany: The annual Chianti Grape Harvest Festival, held in Impruneta on the last Sunday in September, features more than 800 wines, along with music, dancing, and costumes galore. The grape harvest fest highlights the exquisite red wine for which Chianti is world-renowned.

Photo Caption: Chianti grapes growing near Florence. Photo by francesco sgroi/Flickr.com
Parc du Mont-Royal, Montreal. Photo by abdallahh
When to Go: September to November, with October being most promising

Canada's Quebec province transforms into a virtual finger painting of vibrant yellows, oranges, reds, and gold during autumn, when the turning foliage of yellow birch and American beech mixes with that of native sugar maple trees.

Where to View Fall Foliage in Quebec: For prime leap peeping, head to Montreal's Mont-Royal and Quebec's Mont Tremblant, which hosts the annual Symphony of Colours festival weekends in September and October.

Photo Caption: Parc du Mont-Royal, Montreal. Photo by abdallahh/Flickr.com
Sunflowers in Lopburi, Thailand. Photo by Mark Lehmkuhler
When to Go: November through January

About 96 miles north of Bangkok, Lop Buri is becoming increasingly known for its annual display of sunflowers, which turn the surrounding hills and valleys into a spectacular shade of gold. About 12,000 acres are grown here each year, mostly for producing seeds and oil. The fields are especially impressive when viewed against the backdrop of Lop Buri's limestone hills.

Where to See Sunflowers in Thailand: A great time to visit is during the Blooming Bua Tong (Mexican Sunflower) Festival, which takes place annually in December. For the best spots to see sunflowers during the rest of the season, don't miss the Lop Buri districts of Phatthana Nikhom and Khok Samrong.

Photo Caption: Sunflowers in Lopburi, Thailand. Photo by Mark Lehmkuhler/Flickr.com
Cherry blossoms in Yokohama. Photo by naitokz
When to Go: The end of March to early May

Indigenous to Japan, the cherry blossom tree is prominent throughout parks, gardens, and temples countrywide. The best way to experience them is to picnic beneath one of the blooming trees -- an age-old custom that's a traditional part of hanami, or flower viewing. Cherry blossoms traditionally begin to bloom in Okinawa, an island off southern Japan, and move upward, typically reaching Tokyo by the end of March or beginning of April. Colors range from mostly white flowers to vibrant pink.

Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Japan: Two places in Tokyo to view cherry blossoms -- particularly in early April -- are the popular Ueno Park and Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, which boasts about 1,500 cherry blossom trees.

Photo Caption: Cherry blossoms in Yokohama, Japan. Photo by naitokz/Flickr.com
The Antelope Valley California Poppy State Reserve, Los Angeles County. Photo by tkksummers
When to Go: March

Though wildflower season generally lasts from mid-February through mid-May, come to Mojave Desert in March for prime viewing.

Where to See California Poppies: Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve typically springs to life in March with the bright orange bulbs -- making for incredible photo ops. In fact, the reserve was established to protect the state's native wildflowers, most notably the California poppy, which is also the state flower. While here, also keep an eye out for cream cups, goldfields, and lupine.

Photo Caption: The Antelope Valley California Poppy State Reserve, Los Angeles County. Photo by tkksummers/Flickr.com
Tulips in Nagele, Flevoland, the Netherlands. Photo by BDB3003
When to Go: Mid-April to mid-May

Late spring is your best bet for finding blooming tulips in hues of pink, yellow, orange, white, red, and purple. Although tulips didn't arrive in the Netherlands until the late 16th century, the flower has since become synonymous with the country. With more than three billion tulips grown here each year, the tulip is one of Holland's main exports.

Where to See Tulips in Holland: Two superb spots for viewing tulips are Keukenhof -- the world's largest flower garden -- near Lisse, and the Netherlands' 20-mile coastal region between Haarlem and Leiden (dubbed the Bloembollenstreek, or bulb growing region), best explored by bicycle.

Photo Caption: Tulips in Nagele, Flevoland, the Netherlands. Photo by BDB3003/Flickr.com
Texas Hill Country at sunset. Photo by Frommers.com Community
When to Go: Mid-April

Bluebonnets begin blooming mid-March and usually by the third week in April, the fields start giving way to other wildflowers, including Texas paintbrush, sunflowers, and black-eyed Susans -- a subtle transformation of blues, reds, and yellows that's incredible to see. The entire run can last until June, though mid-April is when it's at its best.

Where to See Bluebonnets in Texas: The central Texas Hill Country surrounding Austin is the state's premier place to see wildflowers in bloom, and the town of Burnet -- about an hour's drive north of the capital city -- is officially called the "Bluebonnet Capital of Texas." One of the best ways to view the blooms is on a scenic drive, particularly around Fredericksburg and San Marcos.

Photo Caption: Texas Hill Country at sunset. Photo by Terry Yarbrough/Frommers.com Community
The Montezuma Waterfall Canopy Tour in Guanacaste takes visitors swinging through the treetops around the famous cascade. Photo by Thornton Cohen
When to Go: May through mid-November

What's considered Costa Rica's rainy season is also the country's most scenic. During this time, the land comes alive with greenery, flowering plants like orchids are in full bloom, the rivers are at their highest, and the rain forests thrive.

But due to the rain (which typically occurs just a few hours daily), May through mid-November is also the country's low-season in terms of tourism. Thankfully, this means cheaper airfare, better hotel choices, and fewer crowds for those willing to brave a few rain showers.

Photo Caption: The Montezuma Waterfall Canopy Tour in Guanacaste takes visitors swinging through the treetops around the famous cascade
Lavender fields in Provence, France. Photo by Frommers.com Community
When to Go: July

The main blooming season runs late June through August, with most harvesting done between mid-July and late August. The exact time depends on location and annual weather patterns. July is also when many towns throughout Provence begin hosting fêtes, or festivals, celebrating these native flowering plants. Some towns even host lavender tours.

Best Places to See Lavender in Provence: To catch sight of lavender in bloom, consider visiting Plateau de Sault, the base of Mont Ventoux, and Sénanque Abbey.

Photo Caption: Lavender fields in Provence, France. Photo by AndyW/Frommers.com Community
Valley of Flowers National Park. Photo by aloshbennett
When to Go: July and August

The park opens seasonally from April to October, but the best time to visit is July and August, when monsoon rains bring ample alpine flowers, including blue poppies, cobra lilies, and a wealth of orchids and rhododendrons.

Where to Find the Valley of the Flowers in India: Hidden within the Himalayas in India's northern state of Uttarakhand -- about 370 miles from Delhi -- Valley of Flowers remained forgotten by westerners until 1931, when a British mountaineer accidentally happened upon the area in full bloom. It was declared a national park in 1982 but has long been a magical place for locals (many believed fairies lived here). It's not hard to see why: the 300 varieties of alpine flowers brought forth by the region's dense rains create an almost mythical landscape, especially when seen in contrast with the snow-capped mountains behind.

Though not the easiest place to reach (some strenuous trekking is involved), the views are worth it. Several companies offer tours.

Photo Caption: Valley of Flowers National Park. Photo by aloshbennett/Flickr.com
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