By Sabrina Sparda
Moving can be tough, but moving to the Pioneer Valley makes the prospects seem much brighter! Imagine taking a step out to your back porch and smelling the crisp, sweet air of spring blossoms, complemented by the beauty of the rising sun over the rolling hills of Western Massachusetts. After drinking your morning coffee with the chipping sparrows singing their symphony to you, you go inside and get ready for a day on the town with friends and family. With opportunities and activities ranging from foodie bites, hikes, arts, music, and more, the Pioneer Valley has just about everything you could fathom for that relaxing day of bonding with your loved ones, and of course, for nurturing a peaceful and happy lifestyle.
Amherst is the home of the University of Massachusetts flagship campus, as well a Amherst College and Hampshire College. This college town has a plethora of opportunities for children and parents alike, from toddlers to seniors. For a great show ranging from ballet, to jazz, to theater and chamber choir, stop at the UMass Fine Arts Center. If performance isn't your highest interest, you can still enjoy some of the culture of Amherst with the Emily Dickinson Museum and Beneski Museum of Natural History which features hundreds of real dinosaur fossils! Both museums are in close proximity of each other, with Emily Dickinson's homestead being just across the way from Amherst College, the location of the Beneski Museum of Natural History. After learning all kinds of fun facts at the museums, enjoy a steaming cappuccino or fine glass of whiskey at the detailed whiskey and wine bar, Amherst Coffee. To continue your outing adventure, drive around town just past the rotaries to Atkins Farm Country Market, where I insist that you tantalize your taste buds with their famous apple cider donuts. Inside the fully decked out market you will find fresh local meat and cheeses, bread, hot dishes, local fresh produce, veggies, and fruit! Don't forget to stop into their pastry section and pick up a cheesecake square or two (just because they're my favorite!) If your tummy is grumbling after shopping for all those delicious local groceries, then you can finish off your night with a stop into some of Amherst's favorite restaurants, Judie's or Johnny's Tavern. Judies features a homestyle menu of American cuisine, most famously their popover dishes. Their turkey-"pop"-pie comes as a heaping dish of pot pie, topped off with two delicious flaky popover pastries. If that's not quite your style, then you can head over to Johnny's Tavern, where you'll find Italian style cuisine, flat breads and burgers, softly seared scallops and Italian sausage pizza. If you're looking for a more casual bite, then steer yourself towards two of Amherst's hottest spots, Antonio's Pizza, and Glazed Donuts on North Pleasant St. I've got to say, there's no shortage of excellent food in this sweet little college town.
In Northampton, you'll fall in love with a small city that many people consider to be the heart of the Pioneer Valley. Driving or walking into downtown, you'll find an explosion of arts, culture, music, local mom and pop shops, foodie food (delicious and interesting Valley Food as we call it), and much, much more. Truly, this is where my heart lays in the Valley. My day in Northampton often starts with a perfectly frothed latte from the 26 years in the running, Haymarket Café. A staple of Northampton, this café features ornate décor that makes you feel like you've been catapulted back 100 years or more. This living wage, socioeconomically conscious café features a wide selection of vegetarian and vegan options. Following my first stop of the day, I'll mosey around the shops in town, whether that be for some handmade jewelry and local pottery at Pinch, or some comfortable and fashionable clothing from one of the many stores in Thorne's Market. Northampton is home to Smith College Campus, with notable alumnae Julia Child, Yolanda King & Gloria Steinem. Often I either find myself on the beautiful campus down by the pond renting a canoe or kayak, or in the Smith Botanical Gardens. I have strolled through the many rooms of the botanical gardens as part of a date night out on the town, with friends for an afternoon of natural beauty, or even all on my lonesome, just to relax. By the time I finish up with all those activities, I'm usually hungry again, so I'll stroll over to Homestead, a fresh new restaurant right in the center of town. This beautifully rounded establishment is led by Chef Jeremy Werther, a young and incredibly creative mind who combines flavor profiles in ways that will leave your taste buds dancing. Between the rack of lamb currently on the menu, the seasonally rotating, locally sourced salads, and the array of top notch cheeses used in many of the dishes, this New England Italian style cuisine will blow you out of the water. Make sure to finish your meal off with a delicious dessert like the traditional rich chocolate truffles, drizzled with olive oil and sea salt for the perfect sweet and salty crunch. But hurry in, because the menu is always changing! Often times I will find myself wandering back out to town after dinner, and picking up a thing or two at the lovely Urban Exchange. This luxury consignment shop features top brands like Citizens of Humanity, Frye, Hermes, Madewell, and , in only the best condition. To round out the exciting day, I recommend taking a walk just a bit down the road to Bishops Lounge where you can dance the night away to some of the best local live music in Northampton. If you go on Sunday evenings you can even catch some karaoke, if you're the daring type!
In the curves of the mountain roads, we'll bring you to The Golden Eagle Restaurant in Clarksburg, resting right on the hairpin turn. This lovely little family seafood joint is a well-adored place by most all of the locals, with melt in your mouth lobster and melt your heart views of the mountain ranges. Keep on driving down to the base of the hill, and you'll find MassMOCA, a contemporary art museum with gorgeous exhibits and installations rotating on a regular basis along with music venues. There are exhibits with commentary on riveting subjects and offers such as socialism, infidelity, and environmental responsibility.
Mosey on up the trail, and soon you'll come across the little town of Charlemont. With plenty of nature surrounding Zoar Outdoor, Crabapple, and Berkshire East Mountain Resort they have the perfect location for outdooring adventures. With Zoar Outdoor and Crabapple offering guided kayaking and whitewater rafting, you'll have a variety of options to cool off in the summer sun. Right across the Deerfield River, you'll reach Berkshire East Ski resort where you'll find a wide range of outdoor adventures for you and the kids, from skiing and boarding, to zip lining, mountain biking, and the thrilling Mountain Coaster, with 3,870 feet of downhill track. This sweet little town has more to offer than simply leaf peeping in the fall.
5-10 more miles down the road, you'll land at the rambling town of Shelburne Falls. Shelburne is full of art, nature, and sweet treats such as the delicious assortment of homemade fudge flavors you can find at Mo's Fudge Factor. Once you've finished your dessert-before-dinner, take a short walk across the Bridge of Flowers; a world renowned bridge with every square inch covered in bright flowers and winding vines. Take a right, and walk down the street to the splashing Glacial Potholes. Here, you'll see an astonishing display of a man-made dam which has revealed massive rocks that have been carved and pushed into beautiful rounded shapes by the rushing water over thousands of years. I've spent hours here before, just admiring the way that nature always perseveres. After a long gaze at the falling water, you can loop back around the 128 year old Iron Bridge, and stop in for a mouthwatering riverside meal at West End Pub. Sink your teeth into one of their local beef burgers, with top of the line ingredients that will elevate your dining experience to a new level. If you're interested in local art as well, you can take a short walk up the hill and peruse the Salmon Falls Art Gallery. There you'll find pieces by artists both locally admired, and world renowned.
Keep going down Route 2 for about 15 miles, and you'll arrive in the upcoming and bustling town of Greenfield. Dear in my heart, Greenfield offers lots of family fun activities, venues for date night where you can enjoy live music and microbrewery tastings, and much more. On those sprightly spring afternoons, I would take a few mile hike from Sachems Head, which is only .5 miles from the base of the peak, to Poet's Seat which sits about 2 miles away from Sachem's Head. On sunny summer days you might be able to catch the local volunteer firefighters doing training drills near the tower. After a day in the sun, you can head over to Hawk's and Reed Performing Arts Center to hear an excellent local band, watch a stand-up comedy show, or just stop in for an artisanal drink or craft beer that's sure to impress.
Hop on the rotary and down I-91 to Deerfield, and pop into Magic Wings Butterfly Museum, a location reminiscent of a fairytale. Inside the 8,000 square foot facility, there are 4,000 different kinds of exotic and domestic butterflies, and other creatures in the tropical indoor ecosystem. Even if it's a rather drizzly day, as is characteristic of New England springs, you can still keep warm with the tropical temperatures inside this live museum! After you and the kiddos have been amazed by the marvelous show of butterflies, you can hop in the car and take a short 2 mile drive down the road to Wolfies Family Restaurant. Here you'll find yummy home style American comfort food, with a wide range of options from their excellent fresh haddock fish and chips, to their Cajun chicken Caesar salad, to their classic Wolfie Burger, a local favorite (also my top 3 favorites!) On your way out of Deerfield, make sure to pop in and check out Historic Deerfield where you can find homes that date all the way back to 1730!
If you're looking for more of a secluded or quiet retreat, then cruise on over to Montague, where you'll find a sweet historical town center, an adorable little café, and a mix of younger and well established families perusing the landmarks of town, such as the community library. In this town of book lovers, you'll also happen upon The Montague Book Mill, praised by both The Boston Globe and The New York Times for being one of the most beautiful and pristine place for readers in all of North America. This location, originally a grain mill built in 1834, features a gorgeous babbling waterfall proudly displayed through the massive windows along the backside of the converted barn. This view is one you surely do not want to miss. Once you've sat and enjoyed a crisp coffee, or even a local microbrew draft beer from Lady Killigrew, (the petite but delicious café attached to The Book Mill), I recommend you take a stroll around the back of the building, and grab a 5-star dish from The Alvah Stone. Chef Dave Schrier, the genius of the kitchen, creates wholesome, balanced dishes out of every plate that leaves the kitchen. With all the ingredients sustainably sourced (as it is a core belief of the establishment that any and all food should be sourced this way,) there has never been a dish I have tasted there that did not exceedingly impress. If it's a nice day, I implore you to enjoy your dish out on the patio next to the waterfall, so the rushing water can sing to your ears while your taste buds dance with joy. Wrap up your satisfying visit with a stop up at the Sawmill River Arts Gallery, where you'll find a range of art from paintings to yarn work to hand crafted jewelry. You can consider this your one stop shop for coffee, cocktails, delicious food, gorgeous views, and fascinating art!
We know, there's so many things to get out and do here in the Valley that it would take a year to get through just this list alone! But we think that is just all the more reason to settle down out here, because after all, who doesn't want to live somewhere that's been coined The Happy Valley?
Sabrina Sparda is a UMass Intern pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Individual Concentration (BDIC)