Epidemic Road Trip: Exquisite New England, Surprisingly Still Massachusetts

If you were asked to summarize Massachusetts as a state in three words, what would they be?

Growing up nearest the city I always think of Boston as quintessentially Massachusetts; the cobblestone streets, the Back Bay, and that dirty water, otherwise known as The Charles River. Yet, Massachusetts is considerably sizable in comparison to the actually, quite small city that is Boston (48.28 miles, only six percent of the 7,800 square miles that is the Commonwealth). Massachusetts is comprised of so many quaint and historic towns and cities, museums, architectural wonders and oddities, outdoor hiking experiences, rolling hills, quirky speciality businesses, delicious restaurants, bakeries, and so much more I can’t even name them all!

On a quest for exploration, inspiration, and as always, a little vacation, I hopped in a car and took a road trip out to the farthest place I could go, without reaching New York, the Berkshires!

The first unique destination to kick off my excursion, is the only bridge of its kind in the world, the Bridge of Flowers, located on Water Street in Shelburne Falls. Formerly a working trolly bridge built in 1908, connecting the towns of Shelburne and Buckland. The bridge was later abandoned, due to bankruptcy, became overgrown with weeds, and was known as an expensive eyesore. That was until 1928 when a local resident came up with an brilliant restoration idea. Years later the Bridge of Flowers is far from an ‘eyesore’, with over five-hundred beautifully cultivated annuals and perennials spanning four-hundred feet across the mirror-like Deerfield River. To visit this infamous bridge, set your GPS to 20 Water Street, Shelburne Falls. This will take you to the Shelburne side, which is where you would normally pay to enter and exit on the Buckland side. However, due to the pandemic the bridge has been closed to the public, still, it is completely worth the visit! On a nice day, find yourself entranced in the bridge’s reflection on the tranquil Deerfield River from the Iron Bridge, it is quite picturesque. To read more about the history and restoration of the Bridge of Flowers visit: https://www.bridgeofflowersmass.org

The following day, I booked timed-entry tickets to one of the oldest public display gardens in the northeast, the Berkshire Botanical Gardens in Stockbridge. A twenty-four acre outdoor showcase of horticulture and garden design, also known as ‘a museum of living things’. The gardens feature an array of various ornamental and educational displays, with emphasis on plants native to the northeast. Take a charmingly relaxing stroll on the designated the paths that lead you thought-out the outdoor museum, or step off the guided paths to discover secret gardens and hidden gems. Highlights include the vegetable garden, herb garden, Daylily walk, and Lucy’s Garden, which includes plant clippings into specific animals and shapes. Keep in mind that once you book your ticket, you can stay as long as you like, or at least until the garden’s close at 5:00 p.m. So I would recommend booking earlier in the day rather than later. Tickets cost $7.50, plus fees for nonmembers, Tuesday through Saturday, and are free for members and children under twelve years old. Admission is free for all on Mondays and Sundays. To book your time-entry tickets and learn more about the Botanical Gardens, visit: https://www.berkshirebotanical.org.

What would a trip to the Berkshires be without stopping for some local spirits and beer?! Berkshire Mountain Distillers is open seven days a week from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for complimentary tastings of up to five of their products. Located in Sheffield, they produce everything from gin to whisky and, of course, hand sanitizer. They also have a small, but intriguing shop where you can buy apparel, bitters, spices, maple syrup, and general drinking accessories such as glassware, round ice cube trays, cocktail shakers, and more. My favorite spirit was their ten-year Ocktoberfest Whiskey, triple distilled from Berkshire Brewing Company’s Oktoberfest beer and aged in American white oak barrels.

Up the road in Great Barrington is the Barrington Brewery and Restaurant, offering food and local beer under the same roof. Open for indoor and outdoor dining (no reservations required), they are the first east coast brewery to install a solar panel system that supplies solar-heated water for brewing. With a great atmosphere, some quality beer and local food, Barrington Brewery and Restaurant is a great place to relax and rest your feet.

Other breweries to check out include: Berkshire Brewing Company in South Deerfield, Big Elm Brewing in Sheffield, Shire Breu-House in Dalton, Wandering Star Craft Brewery in Pittsfield, Northampton Brewery in Northampton, Abandoned Building Brewery in Easthampton, Fort Hill Brewery in Easthampton, Two Weeks Notice Brewing Co. in Springfield, Vanished Valley Brewing in Ludlow, Iron Duke Brewing in Ludlow, and Brew Practitioners Brewery and Taproom in Florence. There is no shortage of beer in western Massachusetts!

The next day was humid, but the sun was out with very limited clouds, so I figured it would be a good day to buy timed-entry tickets to Naumkeag, pronounced ‘ˈnȯmˌkeg’. Naumkeag is a gilded-age style estate in Stockbridge with spectacularly impressive gardens and panoramic views, including that of Monument Mountain. Serving as a summer retreat to the Choates family for generations, the estates extensive gardens where created for over a span of thirty years by Miss Mabel Choate and Fletcher Steele. Particularly charming is the Chinese Garden. The estate is currently closed (set to open July 30th) but the grounds are open to the public from Thursday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Timed-entry tickets are $20 per-vehicle for non-Trustee members and free for members (although prices will presumably change once the estate opens to the public). To purchase time d-entry tickets to Naumkeag visit: http://www.thetrustees.org/COVID19/passes.html

That afternoon, I decided to take a short trip up to the beautiful North Adams, the almost furthest northeastern town in Massachusetts (not to be confused with Williamstown). North Adams is a wonderfully quirky town surrounded by gorgeous rolling hills. Highlights include, the Mass MoCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) with Bright Ideas Brewing right next door, and Mount Greylock in the distance. There is also the Natural Bride State Park and WigWam Western Summit or the ‘Switzerland of America’ as it is referred to, right near the famous hair-pin turn on the Mohawk Trail. North Adams is also home to the haunted Hoosac Tunnel, an active five-mile railway that took the lives of over two-hundred men during construction, nicknamed the ‘Bloody Pit.’

Let’s take a moment to appreciate all the delicious food that was devoured on this pandemic road trip! There were so many restaurants on my bucket list, I didn’t even get to eat at half of then, but it is the thought that counts, right?! Originally, I was sadly expecting not to be that impressed with the food in Western Massachusetts, for some reason, and WOW was I wrong. Here is what I would recommend, in no particular order:

District Kitchen and Bar in Pittsfield – Open Wednesday through Sunday 4:00 p.m to 9:00 p.m. Reservations are highly recommended.

Alta Restaurant and Wine Bar in Lenox – Open for Tuesday – Sunday for Lunch 11:30 p.m to 2:30 p.m. and Dinner 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Reservations are highly recommended.

The Old Inn on the Green in New Marlborough – Open Wednesday through Sunday from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Reservations are highly recommended.

The Stagecoach Tavern in Sheffield – Open Thursday through Sunday 4:00 p.m to 8:00 p.m. Reservations are highly recommended.

Haven Cafe and Bakery in Lenox – Open 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

On a Roll Cafe and Catering in Lenox – Open for Breakfast 8 a.m. to 11:00 a.m and for Lunch 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and on Sunday they serve all day breakfast from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Staving Artist Creperie and Cafe in Lee – Open Monday through Saturday for Breakfast 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m and for Lunch 11:30 a.m to 5:00 p.m. Sunday Brunch from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. with music from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Closed Tuesdays.

Patisserie Lenox with locations in Lenox, Great Barrington and Northampton – Open seven days a week.

Chocolate Springs Cafe in Lenox – Open Monday and Tuesday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Wednesday through Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

As you can tell, there are so many highlights of western Massachusetts from unconventional sites, museums, and shops to spectacular views, and delectable bites to eat! There are many quaint towns both north and south on Route 7 that are worth the visit, including:

The town of North Adams: Mass MoCA, Natural Bridge State Park and the Hoosac Tunnel

The town of Pittsfield: the Berkshire Museum, Herman Melville’s Arrowhead, Barrington Stage Company and the Hancock Shaker Village

The town of Lenox: Tanglewood, Shakespeare and Company, The Mount Edith Wharton’s Home, and the Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum

The town of Lee: Lee Premium Outlets

The town of Stockbridge: the Norman Rockwell Museum, Schantz Galleries Contemporary Glass, Naumkeag, the Berkshire Botanical Gardens, and Olivia’s Overlook

The town of Great Barrington: Monument Mountain and Housatonic River Walk

The town of Sheffield: the Bartholomew’s Cobble Reservation and Thom Reed UFO Monument Park

The most southwestern Massachusetts town, Mount Washington: Bash Bish Falls State Park

The most bitter-sweet day of vacation is always the last day, but I never let that get me down. I always request a late check-out, if I can, and pack my afternoon road trip with a ton of sight-seeing, the best excuse to take a break from driving along the way.

If you are heading back to the east coast from western Massachusetts, check out the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, the village of Turners Falls in Montague, the Quabbin Overlook in New Salem, and the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum and the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, both in Springfield.

Wait that’s not all…hungry for more? There is another delicious stop along the way that doubles as a brewery, located in central Massachusetts, called Stone Cow Brewery in Barre. First and foremost a farm, Carter and Stevens Farm, turned into a brewery and most importantly added on a BBQ joint and ice cream stand. Clearly Stone Cow Brewery has it all! Enjoy their rustic barn, listen to some tunes, and take in the breathtaking scenery. Also, don’t forget to stop at their petting zoo on your way out!

Before you make your final decent out of western Massachusetts, absolutely make sure you pick up a bottle or sip a glass of wine or two at the farthest wineries in Massachusetts, Balderdash Cellars and Hilltop Orchards Home of Furnace Brook Winery, both located in Richmond. Balderdash Cellars has absolutely stunning scenery and features fun weekend happenings including live music events that sell out quickly, so reservations are a must!

Wherever you decide to explore this summer, do your research beforehand. Sometimes you will notice hours or even certain requirements, that may have not been in place before, have now changed due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, there is never been a better time to explore locally, you never know what will spark your intrest…

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