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Five unexpectedly cool places to see fall foliage that aren’t in New England

Colorful buildings add to the allure of fall foliage (best in late November and early December) at Qixia Mountain, near Nanjing.
Colorful buildings add to the allure of fall foliage (best in late November and early December) at Qixia Mountain, near Nanjing.Handout

Of course New England puts on a truly spectacular show for leaf peepers. But we’re hardly the only option when it comes to fiery foliage. Here’s a quick look at some unusual, and unexpected, places to see Mother Nature’s most dazzling displays of so-amazing-this-must-be-Photoshopped leaf-stravaganzas, across the globe.

Qixia Mountain, Nanjing, China

Need a post-New England hit of fall foliage? The Technicolor tree season reaches its peak in late November and early December at Qixia Mountain, located 14 miles northeast of the city of Nanjing. (Nanjing is one of China’s ancient capitals, now a major metropolis.) A bullet-train ride (or short flight) from Shanghai transports you to this land of crystalline springs and lush forests of maple, aflame in vivid hues of rose-red, scarlet, and magenta come fall. See the shimmering trees reflected in Mirror Lake, and visit local sites like Qixia Temple, Sarira Pagoda, and Thousand Buddhas Cliff. www.cityofnanjing.com.

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Douro Wine Region Valley, Portugal

Ruby red and tawny amber are colors typically associated with northern Portugal’s favorite export, port wine. But savvy leaf-peepers know that these eye-popping hues color the landscape in autumn. A hot air balloon is the best way to see the kaleidoscope of fall colors here, where acres of pastoral countryside are sheltered from the harsh winds of the Atlantic. Tour castles, shrines, and manor houses, and bunk down for the night in at a winery hotel. www.visitportoandnorth.travel.

Hraunfossar Falls, Husafell, Iceland

As if Iceland needed more in the way of natural beauty. At this enchanting spot in western Iceland, a series of mini waterfalls tumble over ancient lava fields into an aqua river. The backdrop of this comely scene: hillsides shrouded in intense shades of russet and amber. Husafell, about an hour and 40 minutes from Reykjavik, is part of the Sagageopark, one of Iceland’s most geologically diverse areas. It’s an Instagrammer’s dream setting, a panorama of glaciers, fjords, craters, caves, and volcanoes. www.westiceland.is.

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Llanrwst, Wales

One look at the storybook façade of the Tu Hwnt l’r Bont (“beyond the bridge”) Tearoom, and you’ll understand why it is likely the most photographed building in North Wales. This c.1480 stone cottage is most fetching in fall, when it’s almost completely enveloped in wine-colored ivy. But the glory views keep on coming, best experienced on a half-day walk along the Conwy River. Stop along the way at Gwydir Castle and the 6th-century Llanrychwyn Church, believed to be the oldest church in Wales, and stay overnight at the super-cute village of Betws-y-Coed. Looking for a longer walk? The Wales Coast Path offers nearly 900 miles of color-drenched hillsides. www.visitwales.com.

Cashiers, North Carolina

They call it “the shadow of the bear.” Off Highway 64 in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, a bear-shaped image appears in the lush fall foliage every autumn. On sunny days at approximately 5:30 p.m., from mid-October through early November, the “bear” appears for 30 minutes, visible as the sun dips behind 4,930-foot Whiteside Mountain. This fanciful fall phenomenon begins with a small dark shadow at the bottom of the valley, and gradually morphs into a bear-like image. The best viewing spot is at Rhodes Big View Overlook, a pull-off on Highway 64. This would be a primo spot to view fall foliage anyway, but the emergence of the bear puts it right over the top. If you miss it, no worries; the bear appears again in late winter (mid-February to early March.) www.visitnc.com.

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Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com.