Located less than two hours outside of Boston, Western Massachusetts is a great weekend getaway destination. Hampshire County is home to five major colleges, whose roughly 28,000 students have attracted a number of great restaurants, bars, and cultural attractions. Explore the campuses and downtown areas of each, or get away from it all by hiking the Holyoke Range or getting on the water in the Connecticut River.
Hotel: The Hotel Northampton is ideally situated in the heart of downtown Northampton. Built in 1927, this gracious gem is a member of the Historic Hotels of America—and they have plenty of old photos and drawings on display to show how the property has changed over the years. The staff is friendly and eager to share tips on things to do in the area. If the weather is nice, be sure to enjoy a drink at the hotel bar’s patio as you people-watch next to the busy sidewalk.
Friday: After you’ve settled in, head out to see the brand new Hitchcock Center for the Environment. This eco-friendly “Living Building” is a model for sustainability, and offers great take-aways on small changes that you can make in your everyday life to help the environment. Head back in to town and spend some time wandering around downtown Northampton, where there are plenty of unique boutique shops bars, and restaurants to keep you occupied. For dinner, snag a table at Bistro Les Gras (outdoors if it’s nice, or inside the cozy dining room if it’s not), where the constantly changing, hyper-local menu gives you a taste of all the bounty that Western Massachusetts has to offer.
Saturday: Rent bicycles from Northampton Bicycle, where the helpful staff is ready to offer maps and advice on the best routes. For a serene ride, you can’t go wrong with the Norwottuck Rail Trail, an easy 11-mile path that meanders through Northampton, Hadley, and Amherst. Getting off in each town gives you a great overview of the area, and provides plenty of opportunities for refueling and refreshments. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, brunch at 30Boltwood will be sure to quell your hunger. The locally-sourced menu ranges from healthy but hearty to totally indulgent, best enjoyed on the covered porch that overlooks Amherst Common. After returning your bikes, catch a film at Amherst Cinema, an independent, nonprofit arts and education center that plays flicks you definitely won’t find at your local multiplex.
Sunday: Revive yourself after an action-packed weekend with breakfast and a coffee from Esselon Cafe, an independent eatery that serves up in-house roasted artisan coffees. Vegans and vegetarians will love all the options here. There’s a serene patio and garden here that’s perfect for sipping a latte during nice weather. Once you’re fully fortified, drive over to the Notch Visitor Center, where a knowledgeable ranger can recommend a hike for whatever time/ability level you’re looking for. If you’re short on time, Mt. Norwottuck is a fairly easy trail that can be completed in less than two hours, and offers sweeping views at the summit that make the climb worthwhile.
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