Autumn is near-perfect in Crete: the masses have left, days reach 24C, the Libyan Sea is still bath-like, and tavernas are still open and pouring raki. Much of the island’s east has been overdeveloped but there is a lovely, low-key alternative on the south coast. White River Cottages is a hamlet of rustic self-catering stone houses amid olive, pine and carob trees in the rocky Aspros Potamos valley, near the pretty harbour of Makriyialos. The sea is a 15-minute walk, and there’s is good hiking inland, up through the gorge to the mountain village of Pefki, where an excellent taverna awaits.
Studios for two from €81 a night, minimum four nights
The rugged Sagres peninsula, where mainland Europe ends in a froth of Atlantic waves, is the Algarve’s wild west, and more geared to locals and surfers than crowds of tourists. That means it stays buzzy into October, when temperatures are still around 20C, the sea is warm, the surf is up and birding is at its best (the Sagres Birdwatching festival is on 1-5 October). A chic place to stay is the Memmo Baleeira, overlooking one of Sagres town’s four beaches: it has minimalist design, EarthCheck certification and a restaurant with wood-fired oven serving fish fresh from the sea.
Doubles from €108 B&B
Any month is great in subtropical Madeira; in October, temperatures are between 22C and 25C. If it’s a beach break you want, head for southwesterly Calheta, surrounded by vineyards and banana plantations above one of the rocky island’s few sandy bays. Opened in 2020, Socalco Nature Calheta is a cluster of Atlantic-facing rooms and houses integrated into cliffs, orchards and agricultural land. Its aim is to provide a deep-dive into Madeiran food and sustainability: guests are encouraged to join cooking classes, food tours and wine tastings, or get their hands dirty on the farm.
Doubles from €114 B&B
Costa Blanca, Spain
For a most therapeutic burst of sunshine, look to the Costa Blanca: the World Health Organization named it as having Europe’s healthiest climate – even January averages 17C here. North and inland from Alicante are the foothills of the Bernia mountains: rural, remote and heaven for hiking at this time. Reached along a meandering backroad, Refugio Marnes is a farmhouse turned solar-powered agritourism, where simple B&B rooms, handsome cottages, a Bedouin tent and a refreshing pool blend into the surrounding pine and cypress trees. There are hikes and bikes from the doorstep, while the coast is a 30-minute drive.
Doubles from €69 B&B
Vejer de la Frontera
Few places in mainland Europe beat Andalucía for low-season sunshine – October still reaches the high 20s. Hilltop pueblo blanco Vejer de la Frontera lies within the “sherry triangle”, 10km inland from some of southern Spain’s loveliest, least-developed beaches (El Palmar is top pick). Califa Casas runs a handful of holiday homes scattered amid Vejer’s medieval streets, so a stay here lets you feel you’re living like a local. At self-catering Casa Luján, you can breakfast on a terrace overlooking the town and the Costa de la Luz and then step out into a maze of fancy restaurants, tapas bars and sherry bodegas.
Casa Luján (sleeps two) costs €70 a night, minimum stay five nights
Artists, authors and Queen Victoria once flocked to reliably sunny Hyères. It’s since fallen out of fashion, perhaps because it’s actually about 4km from the sea. But it has charm in spades – pastel mansions, palm-lined boulevards, stores selling Provençal delights. Plus, just offshore lie the Îles d’Hyères (also known as Îles d’Or), including sandy Porquerolles and wild Port-Cros, France’s smallest national park. Castel Pierre Lisse, a small hilltop mansion once owned by Edith Wharton, is now a bohemian hotel full of vintage oddments. There’s a pool and a view of the islands from the terrace.
Doubles from €125 B&B
The Île de Beauté is even more lovely when summer visitors from the French mainland have left but the sun is still shining. In Corsica’s little-developed south-west – the most gorgeous chunk of all – Fianca l’Osso is squeezed between the Med and the mountains. It’s a 20-minute walk from a sandy cove, and the towns of Sartène and Bonifacio aren’t far by car. But it would be tempting to simply spend days in the garden, reading under the palm and fig trees, dipping in the pool and eating owner Isabelle’s gourmet meals with a view of the sea.
Doubles from €120 B&B
This under-the-radar Dodecanese isle remains delightful in October: T-shirt weather, seas warm enough to swim (or wreck dive) in and, thanks to a year-round local population, none of that sad out-of-season feel. Hotel Archontiko Angelou is a converted 19th-century mansion that has retained much of its original grandeur, and is a short walk from Alinda, Leros’s best beach. Owner Marianna serves vegetarian breakfasts outside under a jacaranda tree, and can make up picnics for those heading out to explore the island’s fishing villages, ancient ruins and unusual art deco towns.
Doubles from €100 B&B
The Konavle valley runs south from Cavtat, a few miles south of Dubrovnic, to the Montenegrin border, flanked by coastal hills and high karstic peaks, and flush with vineyards and fruit trees. With the mercury still hovering around mid-20s in October, it offers a warm, rural escape. Both Dubrovnik – quieter without summer crowds and hosting the Good food festival (14-17 October) – and the coast are within in easy reach. Villa Sele is a charming self-catering house with mountain views and private pool in the untouristy town of Gruda, which has cafes, good restaurants and craft shops, and is 50 minutes by bus from Dubrovnik.
Villa Sele sleeps four from€875 a week
The little fishing port of Pozzillo, north of the elegant city of Acireale and delightful Santa Maria La Scala, lies off the beaten track in high summer, never mind in autumn (even though temperatures can still hit 25C). It makes a great base for climbs up Mount Etna and visits to the studenty city of Catania and scenic Taormina, for soaking up Sicilian life or for doing nothing much at all at a bolthole such as Terrazza sul Mare. This airy stone villa has a terrace overlooking the harbour and steps straight down to the sea; there’s a fresh fish stall on the street corner and excellent trattorias serving seasonal produce nearby.
Sleeps four from €1,140 a week, minimum stay seven nights, wishsicily.com