Breathing Lessons in the Berkshires
by Laura House
THE BERKSHIRES – We over-work and over-schedule, and sometimes we forget to breathe. The lack of air is more pronounced these days, as my husband and I are first-time parents.
The Berkshires region of Western Massachusetts, which cuts a rolling swath through the Appalachian Mountains, has plenty of fresh, piney air for the gulping. It's only a few hours drive from our Brooklyn home, making it possible to escape on short notice with a 1-year-old in tow.
WHERE TO STAY
What once housed mill workers and their families now caters to design conscious travelers as The Porches Inn in North Adams. Forty-seven rooms in a distinct row of Victorian houses with wide front porches gaze out at MASS MoCA. This tidy compound has a pool (good for the kids), hot tub (even better for the parents), and sauna. The interiors display curio cabinets full of souvenirs that appear to have been collected on the longest cross-country road trip ever. The communal breakfast room (top-notch continental spread of croissants, grainy breads, yogurt, fruit, generous hunk of cheese) is a good spot to collect ideas for outings and restaurants from other guests. Perks for parents: they provide a pack-n-play and have high chairs, which means less gear to lug.
Good to Know: Turns out that a lot of people run off to the woods for romance. As a result, several hotels we called had "only well behaved children over 10 allowed" or "no children at all" policies. At Porches, we didn't feel like we had to sacrifice style or amenities just because we now roll with the sippy cup set.
Next Trip: For a hiking-focused getaway, the charming Bascom Lodge atop Mount Greylock has basic, yet comfortable-looking private and group bunks (all with shared bathrooms) for luxe "camping" accommodations.
WHERE TO PLAY
Hike around 12,500 rolling acres of Mount Greylock State Reservation, home to Mount Greylock, the highest summit in Massachusetts. My sister gifted us one of those baby hiking packs, and I was determined to use it to cover at least a tiny portion of the place, damnit. The park website and trailhead postings provide detailed maps with ambles for everyone from birders to ambitious hikers. We pieced together a walk along the Appalachian Trail with a view well worth the healthy ascent. In our three-hour meander we only ran into two other hikers — how's that for getting lost in the woods?
Next Trip: We'll bring our bikes and check out some of the rails-to-trails paths like the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail. Also, we stopped by the Ioka Valley Farm to visit Uncle Don's Barnyad, but the petting zoo was not yet open. Stop by and feed Wilbur and pals June 28 through September 3rd.
WHAT TO SEE
Wander through the stunning, engaging, and (often times) life-affirming installations at MASS MoCA in North Adams. The museum campus of sturdy brick buildings has a storied past as an ironworks which forged plates for a Civil War ship, then a textile company that supplied fabric for the Union Army, then an electronics plant. Today you'll find industry of another sort — large-scale works of contemporary art. Like Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, a riot of colors and precise geometry that spans three rambling floors. May through October you can experience the mini-odyssey to Michael Oatman's All Utopias Fell, a far-out concept in an Airstream trailer that has "crashed" at the museum. Keep curious paws busy at KidSpace, a hands-on creative zone.
WHERE TO EAT
Cruising past farm after bountiful farm can make a person hungry. Taste fresh roadside fare at Mezze Bar and Bistro. Despite moving last year from downtown Williamstown to Sheep's Hill, their commitment to partnering with local farmers remains. The chilled beet and ginger soup was so pure it may have extended my life another year, and even the basic mixed greens salad was extraordinary for its fresh-picked flavor. The rich smoked chicken confit was balanced with crisp vegetables, and a generous side of creamy asparagus risotto received rave reviews (of the monosyllabic sort) from our son. Although we dined at an unfashionably early hour with a baby, we managed a luxuriously paced evening (some would even say romantic). Excellent wine and an abundance of people — cooing at, and distracting our baby — only sweetened the deal.
Gramercy Bistro at MASS MoCA in North Adams serves a solid Sunday brunch. The straightforward menu delivered on classics like eggs Florentine, French toast, and breakfast potatoes nicely crisped in olive oil. This elegant bistro with outdoor seating serves dinner and is open for lunch on select days.
Pizza is always a hit with appetites big and small. Especially Great Barrington's Baba Louie's all-natural sourdough pizza with creative pies like the Dolce Vita topped with sweet figs, salty prosciutto, spinach, fresh mozzarella, and gorgonzola. Top that off with a decadent scoop of Crème Caramel or cleansing ginger ice cream at the family owned SoCo Creamery (this is not your average ice cream shop).
Although roadside stands and farms are abundant, we did have a few disappointing experiences at places where everything tasted fresh off the Sysco truck. We preferred snacks and tasty picnic provisions like local produce, fresh baked breads, and house made salads at Wild Oats Market in Williamstown.
Next Trip: We'll try Allium Restaurant and Bar in Great Barrington, another outpost of the Mezze Restaurant Group.
See the locations for this trip. (Googlemaps)