From the lowlands of the Connecticut River Valley to the famous rolling mountains—OK, hills—of the Berkshires, Western Mass. is an attractive destination for that weekend getaway. Small towns sprinkled throughout the region offer homemade ice cream, country stores, and scenic rural drives as well as picturesque colleges and spas.
In winter, skiers flock to the mountains, while summers light up with cultural events, consistently garnering big names and rave reviews. Both modern and traditional, Western Mass. brings an amazing assortment of theater, music, contemporary art, and outdoor adventure within an easy drive of Boston and New York City.
Check out our guide to three great towns in the area.
1. PIONEER VALLEY
Pioneer Valley, also known as the Five College Area, has all the best attributes of a college town: cheap restaurants and cafes, impressive museums, and plenty of bike trails and parks to relieve the stress of a liberal-arts education. The peak visiting season is in the fall, when tourists come to marvel at the foliage and share in the bounty of the harvest at roadside produce stands.
COLLEGES. Aside from aggressive tourism, the best way to keep offbeat shops and eateries afloat is to pack the surrounding square miles with college students. With nearly 30,000 of them, Pioneer Valley does just that. Preppy Amherst College, freewheeling Hampshire College, all-female Mount Holyoke College, liberated Smith College, and the gigantic University of Massachusetts at Amherst make up the Five College Consortium.
EMILY DICKINSON MUSEUM. The Emily Dickinson Museum, 280 Main St., is 5min. down the road from Amherst town center.
2. NORTH ADAMS
In its heyday as a large industrial center, North Adams had 100 trains passing through the Hoosac Tunnel each day. Over time, the factories changed into art studios and galleries—some of the best in New England—and today modern art stands where assembly lines and machinery once loomed.
CLARKSBURG STATE PARK. 1199 Middle Rd., a few miles north of town on Rte. 8, has 44 campsites and 368 acres of woods and water.
MASS MOCA. 87 Marshall St., has galleries in 26 old factory buildings and is the largest center for contemporary arts in the country. Pushing the envelope of modern art, the museum houses upside-down trees and large multimedia displays as well as fascinating rotating exhibits.
WESTERN GATEWAY HERITAGE STATE PARK. 115 State St., just after the Hadley Overpass off Rte. 8, celebrates the history of the Hoosac Tunnel. Half a mile north of downtown on Rte. 8, Natural Bridge State Park, McCauley Rd., is home to a white marble bridge that spans a 60 ft. deep chasm. Navigate the labyrinth of stairs and stone leading to the bridge or picnic on the grounds. (Memorial Day-Columbus Day }413-663-6392, Columbus Day-Memorial Day 663-8469. Open Memorial Day-Columbus Day daily 9am-5pm. Parking $2.)
Williamstown, a cozy town on the Vermont border, is home to Williams College, the second-oldest college in Massachusetts.
NORMAN ROCKWELL MUSEUM. Enjoy some old-fashioned Americana at the Norman Rockwell Museum, 9 Glendale Rd. (Rte. 183), where you can visit the artist’s studio and the largest single collection of his original works, including many Saturday Evening Post covers.
CHESTERWOOD. Just down the road lies Chesterwood, 4 Williamsville Rd., the home and studio of sculptor Daniel Chester French of Lincoln Memorial fame.
BERKSHIRE BOTANICAL GARDENS. Enjoy fresh fragrances and stunning flower arrangements at the Berkshire Botanical Gardens, at the intersection of Rte. 102 and 183.
NAUMKEAG. Set in the rolling hills overlooking Stockbridge, Naumkeag, Prospect Hill Rd., is the 44-room Choate family mansion surrounded by lavish gardens, a blue-roofed Chinese temple, and perfectly manicured trees.
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