Rain or shine, Pioneer Valley in Western Mass. is great for a quick getaway

The Boston Globe
By Jon Gorey
March 16, 2018

From the Montague Bookmill to scenic views of the Mount Holyoke Range to maple syrup on tap, the Pioneer Valley makes for a fun trip in fickle spring.

WHEN SPRING ARRIVES in New England, some of us kind of lose our minds. Can you blame us? After being stuck inside all winter, we welcome those first feeble rays of March sunshine like a long-lost friend, greeting 50-degree weather with T-shirts and smiles. Behold, the prodigal sun!

But spring around here is fickle, and often very wet. As much as we long to get outside, sometimes nature just doesn’t cooperate.

That’s why the four-season playground of the Pioneer Valley makes for a great spring getaway. Amid the collage of college towns and rolling farmland, there’s every opportunity to hike, bike, or play outside when the sun is out — but also plenty of ways to get your outdoor fix indoors when Mother Nature douses your best-laid plans. And that’s not to mention a hyperactive year-round cultural calendar that, buoyed by the nearby colleges and universities, defies the bucolic landscape.

On my latest visit with my wife and young daughter, we stay at the historic Hotel Northampton (413-584-3100, hotelnorthampton.com). We always seem to end up there, just because it’s smack downtown in Northampton, the artsy epicenter of this “Happy Valley.” Northampton’s stroll-inducing Main Street and offshoots are jammed with art galleries, restaurants, bars, music venues, and unique shops worth a visit in any season.

With sidewalk musicians, cheap eats from all over the world, and a student-bohemian energy, downtown Northampton, only about 100 miles from Boston, feels a lot like Harvard Square; there are even familiar facades, like the original Raven Used Books (413-584-9868, ravenusedbooks.com). But one big difference is that driving for 10 minutes finds you not “almost to Watertown,” but rather enveloped by gorgeous countryside and pastoral landscapes immortalized by artists of the Hudson River School.

The Pioneer Valley is the Commonwealth’s bread basket; this is where farm meets table.

I’m not just talking about the trendy restaurants that serve locally sourced ingredients (there are plenty); I mean that some working farms also serve food on the premises. In the past, we’ve stopped for lunch and a sweet treat at Barstow’s Dairy Store and Bakery (413-586-2142, barstowslongviewfarm.com), which offers ice cream, cheeses, and more. The burgers, when available, come from cattle that are raised on the pretty, family-owned Barstow’s Longview Farm in Hadley. But in the spring, perhaps no other foodstuff is better enjoyed on site than maple syrup.

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