Berkshires Getaway-Pump, Pack and Pamper

May 2013
The Berkshires is one of my favorite spots for a girlfriend getaway. So much so, that its the start of my Pack, Pump & Pamper series. A gas tank or less away from Boston: Pack your bag, Pump your car full of gas and Pamper yourself to recharge the batteries.
      Three hours west of Boston, the Berkshires welcome you with year round art, culture and outdoor adventure.  How wonderful is it when you have a friend who is always up for a getaway, and loves to spend her time the same way you do.  Pretty special right? I just happen to have the perfect partner in crime.

I really feel like North Adams is a hidden treasure.  Still a bit gritty, with an underlying feel that you are visiting an undiscovered gem.  Especially if you go in the off season.The veranda is waiting at The Porches.  This block of former textile workers housing has been transformed into a shabby chic hotel.  The award winning renovation of this eco-friendly spot offers free wifi, a pool and fireplace with cozy reading nooks as well as breakfast.  Vintage themes are combined with modern amenities to prove that granny chic is just modern enough in this former mill town.
North Adams has Mass MoCA to thank for the recent uptick in tourism. The sprawling 19th century mill complex offers some of the most cutting edge art around. Xu Bing is one of the most important Chinese contemporary artists working today. His Tobacco Project {above} is typical of the installations you will see. Made from half a million cigarettes arranged to mimic a tiger pelt, it makes a thought provoking statement on the global tobacco trade, luxury and colonialism.
Aside from the monumental statement of Xu Bing’s two Phoenix sculptures, they are a marvel in up cycling genius. A powerful statement on the progress of modern China and the debris left behind as it moves into the future, the artist has translated this waste into an expression of the yin and yang that is found everywhere in the country’s culture.

I was fascinated everywhere I looked to see what had been incorporated into the installation. Steel rebar, girders, bamboo that you see on construction sights all over China used as scaffolding, shovels, hard hats, gloves, canisters, tools and heads made of industrial jackhammers. Its hard to translate the effort it must have taken to plan and execute this work. The artistic vision and scientific calculations to create and then transport, by sea, in crates, the pieces for the 100 foot mythical birds… I was awestruck. For someone whose motto is reduce, reuse, and recycle, it was a highlight of the trip.

The complex also hosts a variety of musical events including dance, films and houses Lickety Split, a good pit stop for ice cream, coffee or a heathful lunch.

Town itself has many galleries, shops selling vintage items and plenty of restaurants. The street art pooping up around every corner reminds you that many artists are at work in the warehouses that make up much of the city.

A favorite spot for dinner is Gramercy Bistro. Walking distance from the porches, and in the MoCA complex, it is a spot committed to supporting local food producers and farmers and their menu reflects that.

Early the next morning take a beautiful walk on the Cascades Trail a short drive away.  This hidden hike, tucked in behind a residential area is minutes away from downtown and short enough to get in and still have plenty of the day left for exploring. There are plenty of additional activities and hikes listed on the web site.

Head into Williamstown after your hike for an art filled day.  The Sterling and Francine Clark Institute houses a remarkable collection of paintings, crafts, sculpture and drawings that reflect the eclectic and comprehensive taste of the couple. Make sure not to miss the Stone Hill Center located on a wooded hillside up from the Clark with beautiful views of the mountains.  There are also scenic trails if you want to hit the woods again and usually a special exhibit housed in the modern building. Plenty of spots for lunch in Williamstown, my favorite is Poppy’s Deli with a lengthy list of vegetarian options. Nearby, the Williams College Museum of Art emphasizes modern and contemporay art from world cultures.  The thought provoking exhibits dig deep and ask questions that you would hope to find at a leading center of higher learning.

Now that you’ve fed your soul and pampered your brain, time for a taste of spa treatments. We had a good laugh when we discovered this vintage steamer in a shop, but it wasn’t quite what we had in mind for rejuvenation.

Much better were the results at the In Touch Massage and Day Spa which began its life as a grist mill in 1762 and is perched on the banks of the Green River.  If you’re there in the summer, make sure to book a massage outside and drift off to the sounds of the water pouring over the rocks in the river. It was a tad chilly for us , but are treatments were heavenly just the same.
On the short drive back to The Porches, we stopped at Wild Oats Cooperative, a purveyor of natural groceries, locally grown produce, prepared foods and beer and wine.  After so much art and walking, we decided a picnic dinner was in order and were able to take advantage of the special outdoor space The Porches had to offer.

On my return home, I got distracted {imagine}and ended up in Shelburne Falls.  It was a happy wrong turn, as I had always wanted to stop at The Bridge of Flowers when on route to one of my sons many lacrosse games.  Unfortunately, a teenage boy has very little interest in flowers, let alone a bridge of them, so it remained a pitstop in my mind’s eye.What a delightful wrong turn.  Thousands of bulbs and plantings on a trolly bridge rescued by a visionary{ Antoinette Burnham} who saw it’s potential. The town is a step back in time, a good place to stretch your legs and spots for lunch before you drive back to reality recharged and ready for what’s ahead.
  1. Donna Janke says:

    This certainly looks like a fun getaway. I love how even taking a wrong turn takes you to something delightful. The Bridge of Flowers is pretty.

  2. Love the works of Xu Bing’s two Phoenix sculptures. Don’t know that I would like to get into the old steamer. This looks a lovely pump, pack and pamper place to go.

    • alison says:

      Paula-The art work took my breath away. The photos don’t do it justice, and to see all the recycled items Xu Bing used was unlike anything I have ever seen. The steamer, however, had seen better days. My friend was so afraid she was going to get stuck in it!

  3. I really enjoyed this post as when I lived in Boston I just loved to go to the Berkshires. I even managed to get 3 free trips to Canyon Ranch when I was still working in a corporate America! It’s such a beautiful area with so many little gems to discover.

    • alison says:

      Lucky you Kay. I’ve been to Canyon Ranch once and it was quite a luxurious experience. Would not mind a replay on that one, or any of this trip for that matter. The Berkshires are a great escape so close to Boston.

  4. I’ve driven through the Berkshires a few times and each time have wished I could spend time there. The towns in your posts would be perfect. Great itinerary for my future visit — whenever that may be!

    • alison says:

      I hope you get the opportunity to visit for more than a drive through Cathy. It’s a wonderful area and such great restaurants and cultural activities.

  5. Wow, that steamer is kind of scary! For some unexplainable reason we have never visited the Berkshires, been right by it tons of times. Always makes me think of Rockabye Sweet Baby James by James Taylor.

  6. We were in Williamstown in June—for our 35th college reunion at Williams College. I arrived at Williams in 1971 from a Philadelphia public all girls high school to be a member of the first Williams class that admitted fresh”men” women. There was all sorts of culture shock, but I pinched myself pretty much everyday, thinking of my good fortune to have ended up in such a beautiful place. (I also found Mr. Excitement there, so I definitely have a warm spot in my heart for the Berkshires).