All your days can easily be swallowed up around the city, but this 2:3-day split, in favour of the Glorious Berkshires, indulges city and countryside, opening up a whole New England! Enjoy my recommendations, Mary Croasdale, Content Manager, Destinology.
Let’s understand the Geography
New England is made up of the states of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The Berkshires is a region of western Massachusetts that comprises mountains and rural areas dotted with villages.
Arrival Boston – there are three things you notice:
- The first nice thing is the space and tranquillity of the airport
- The second is the speed at which you can get through baggage reclaim and customs
- The third is the speedy 20-minute drive to the centre of town. You can land at 12.30 and be in your hotel room before 2!
3-day-route or 4-day-route
The plan was to include a mix of art & culture, town exploration, outdoor activity (see my ziplining post for more on this!) and a little retail therapy.
Boston to Amherst is just over 90 miles and will take you about 1hr45 to drive there. There are two routes – one to the north that will take you through interesting Leominster, Gardner and Athol or the southern option (fractionally shorter and faster), through Framingham, Worcester and Palmer. You’ll travel on good wide roads through typical rural Massachusetts, the countryside is a mix of forested hills and pastureland with snow-capped peaks in the distance. The driving is easy with little traffic (expect more in peak season), it’s clearly signposted although a satnav or your phone navigation will pick up good signals.
Tip – if you fancy a shopping stop, there’s Natick Mall about 40 minutes into the journey
Amherst (Pioneer Valley)
For: Bike riding, hiking, small town life
A traditional, New England college town with uber-wide streets, numerous churches that look older than the town itself, individual shops, and cafes with crazy-good carrot cake! These small towns that house university/college campuses have a buoyancy to them that sees events throughout the term that engage the entire community. As far as I’m aware we have nothing of its sort in the UK so the ambiance and relevance to Amherst was fascinating to see. Visitors generally take time to wander around the campus too – an exercise I’d only previously done as research for my own kids’ education!
Tip – hire a bike from the centre of town, (approx. US$20 per hour), there are trails through an attractive wooded conservation area
Tip – try Chez Albert for dinner, it is charming and relaxed with exceptional lamb
Tip – Experience the Lord Jeffrey Inn for authentic New England accommodation
Step 2 – Amherst to Williamstown
About 1hr25 – again with more than one route, one that takes you north via Sunderland, Charlemont (for Zoar Outdoor activities) and Florida – this directs you past Shelburne Falls and through the Savoy Mountain State Forest. The southern option steers past Northampton, Willimamsburg, Goshen and Adams with numerous smaller places if you fancy a coffee or cottage industry shop stop.
Williamstown – Clark Art Institute and Museum
For: Outdoor adventure, Clark Art Institute, Hancock Shaker Museum & MASS MoCa
The wonderful thing about this region is the world class art. Unlike the UK, which can be a little ‘one-city-centric’, the US seems to disseminate more broadly. A great example of this is Sterling and Francine Clark’s Art Institute which was opened to house their renowned collection of American and European works in 1955; not in New York or LA but the unassuming, studious, Williamstown. The story of Sterling’s inherited wealth, his move to Paris, his controversial marriage to French actress, Francine and OO-LA-LA, so much more! Listen to a guide tell you the story, then immerse yourself in the magical indoor and outdoor spaces – this is a full day out, you’ll kick yourself if you don’t allow enough time.
Tip – pick a dry day if you can, the hillside views and outdoor Japanese architecture are a treat in themselves – a place of peaceful appreciation.
Step 3 North Adams
You could stay in Williamstown another night, as it’s just 20 minutes from another terrific, but this time totally modern, art experience (I avoid the word gallery as it’s so much more), – the MASS MoCa in North Adams.
This unreal, experiential expanse of modern art and entertaining instalments will engage children and adults alike. In fact, the children’s section with its expressive sculptures was one of my favourite areas - lion heads fashioned from bullet shells, a pig from tape measures and a life-size horse from used saddlery. The museum is housed in former mills and is set to double in size in the next few years – again this is a world-class attraction that you’ll stumble upon in rural New England.
Tip – food again sorry! But the café is great value and great quality!
Tip – check out the MASS MoCa website for special events and new installations.
Back to Boston
From here you are about 3hr30 from Boston and the airport and assuming you’re on a night flight you’ll have just the right amount of time.
Step 4 (if you have an extra day)
If you have another day then there are a lots of options:
Zoar Outdoor Adventure – it is just 40 minutes from Williamstown and opens a world of outdoor adventure depending on the season. White water rafting, Ziplining and canoeing. I took the ziplining option which you can read about in detail here.
Jiminy Peak – a 30minute’ drive for skiing in the winter or hiking and oodles of outdoor fun in the summer – especially good for families.
Tip – you’ll pass lots of smaller, interesting places on the way – remember to meander!
Boston is great for a standard 2 or 3 nights but an extended short break gives you so much more of lovely MASS!