“Wow, this is totally amazing,” we said, gazing in wonder at the kaleidoscope of color in the valley below us, as Route 2 zigzagged toward North Adams. “I wouldn’t know,” our friend in the driver’s seat replied, “I’m kind of busy right now, keeping the car on the road.”
Yep, best not to be distracted as you navigate those crazy hairpin turns into the Berkshires. If you’re lucky enough to be in the passenger’s seat, you will totally understand why busloads of tourists come from all over the world to admire this russet-drenched landscape. Now, we were among them, happily playing tourist. Fall foliage and fudge — yes, even in the tony enclaves of the Berkshires.
Although several top venues, such as Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow, and the Williamstown Theatre Festival, have taken their final curtain calls for the season, there’s still plenty to do in the hilly hinterlands of Western Massachusetts. And without all those tempting tickets to buy, it can be a bargain. Our strategy: Combine some mountain hiking with museum-hopping, bike-riding, kayak-paddling, outlet-shopping, and fun dining. Pick a retro cheap sleep, add a passel of pretty leaves, and you’ve got yourself a wallet-friendly weekend.
The Berkshires may be most famous for its castle-like digs and luxury spas, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend big bucks for lodging. In upscale Great Barrington, we found the Briarcliff Motel, circa 1960, reimagined as a contemporary bed-and-breakfast by new owners Clare and Richard Proctor. Minimalist-cool, with such mid-century touches as a blue sink basin and vintage Philco fridge, it will set you back just $135 per night (double occupancy) on weekends. That includes breakfast, featuring Richard’s nutty homemade granola and Clare’s muffins and scones. www.thebriarcliffmotel.com
To the north, the Berkshire Hills Motel in Williamstown is a great deal; weekend rates are $99, while midweek (Sun-Thu) rates are $89, double occupancy. Set on a brook, it’s comfy and homey, if not terribly chic, with a sunny breakfast room.
If you’re on the outdoor recreation track, you’ll need on-the-road eats. We found tasty, picnic-worthy treats at the Berkshire Co-op in Great Barrington and Guido’s Marketplace in Pittsfield. Even if you weren’t on a budget, you would want to hit Baba Louie’s (Great Barrington and Pittsfield locations) for pizza. The wood-fired pies are made with organic sourdough flour. Sushi isn’t usually bargain fare (probably for good reason) but the lunch specials at Shiro Sushi Lounge (Great Barrington) are beloved by locals and tourists alike. Most people go to the Barrington Brewery to sample the solar-brewed beer (technically, the brewery is solar-heated), but the food isn’t bad either. (What’s not to like about a pub that offers two kinds of veggie burgers?) In Williamstown, Coyote Flaco has good Mexican-Spanish fare, and most everything is under $18. And if you’re tempted to go to the famous Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, may we suggest the Lion’s Den pub, instead of the main dining room? It’s much cheaper — plus, it has live music. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the Miss Adams Diner in Adams, a Worcester dining car decorated with vinyl records. The hot sandwiches ($3.75-$5.75) are always good, as is the daily special.
BERKSHIRES’ BEST BIKE RIDE
Framed by mountains and winding alongside a river and lake, the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail is hands-down the best bike path we’ve ever encountered. This 10-foot-wide path runs for 11.2 miles along the Hoosic River Valley, between Mount Greylock and the Hoosac Mountains. A former railroad corridor, it’s basically flat as it winds through the towns of Adams, Lanesborough, and Cheshire, so you can tune into its sights and sounds: leaves crunching under your tires, the occasional curious rabbit hopping onto the path, the golden light of autumn glinting off Cheshire Lake.
You can park at either end of the path, and there’s a restroom just off the path on Cheshire Lake. We typically start in Adams, parking at the free Discover the Berkshires Visitors Center lot at 3 Hoosac St. You can’t miss the brown Ashuwillticook trail signs. Don’t want to bother with transporting your bike? Berkshire Outfitters (berkshire
outfitters.com) in Adams offers rentals of hybrid bikes, for $35 a day.
ON THE WATER
If the idea of paddling along a lakeshore with a backdrop of fall color sounds fun, why not squeeze in one more kayak outing before November’s gales hit? Berkshire Outfitters offers rentals of double and single kayaks for $54 or $39 per day, respectively. Got a small car? They will shuttle your boat to 1.2-mile Cheshire Lake for an extra $10 per vessel. If you’re bringing your own kayak, you can choose among several places to put in; we like Laurel Lake, which abuts Lenox and Lee, with a launch off Route 7.
THE ART OF THE DEAL
We really meant to skip
Mass MoCA this time around, but there’s something so engaging about this behemoth warehouse-turned-contemporary art museum that we just can’t resist a pop-in when we’re in the North Adams neighborhood. There is a promotion going on through Dec. 31: Museum tickets are generally $15, but if you plan to hit the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, you can get a combined ticket for $26, saving $5.
Mass MoCA also offers a dual-ticket deal with the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. Tip: If you’re a Bank of America cardholder, you can visit Mass MoCA for free on the first full weekend of the month; the museum participates in the bank’s Museums on Us program (mu
As deals go, you can’t do better than free, which is one of the reasons our frugal Yankee hearts love the Williams College Museum of Art. You’ll be beckoned inside by Louise Bourgeois’s freaky eye sculptures; inside are more than 13,000 works of art, including the world’s largest collection of work by the artist brothers Maurice and Charles Prendergast. There’s always something compelling to see here, where the emphasis is on modern and contemporary works.
Driving to the summit of the 3,491-foot mountain is one of the Berkshires must-dos, especially when the valleys below are decked in riotous hues of red and gold. (Plus, the road closes on Oct. 21.) But don’t feel like you’re taking the sissy way to the top; there are several places to pull off and hike up, up, up. You’ll get different vantage points, too. Nearly every trail has its own rewards. We picked the Jones Nose Trail, mainly because we liked the name, and found ourselves in a pasture of golden aster, aswirl in orange butterflies. Monarchs or viceroys, we couldn’t be sure, but it was definitely a memorable hiking moment. (As was the view of the Catskills we saw from a rocky ledge as we continued hiking into the woods.) For more trail descriptions:
BEST HIKE FOR LITERARY LOVERS
Hike in the footsteps of literary giants on Monument Mountain — this is the spot where Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Oliver Wendell Holmes trekked on Aug. 5, 1850, toting a picnic and champagne up the west side of the peak. There’s an easy way to go (up Indian Monument Trail) and a tougher one (up Hickey Trail, where a rocky staircase leads to Squaw Peak and wonderful views). Either way, you’ll reach a summit that Hawthorne compared to “a headless sphinx wrapped in a rich Persian shawl.” Perhaps you’ll be inspired to come up with your own lavish description. Plan on about two hours for this one, or less; the easier route is a favorite of local families. The trailhead is off Route 7; go 3.6 miles north of the Route 23 junction in Great Barrington. thetrustees.org
BEST BARGAIN SHOPPING
There’s an outlet mall in Lee, but it’s always cool to find local designer bargains. The Annie Selke Outlet in Pittsfield is a treasure trove of ultrasoft bedding and sleepwear, created right here and sold at 50 to 80 percent off. (Pine Cone Hill is her line.) 125 Peck’s Road,
FESTIVALS AND FUDGE
For a mix of local color, live music, and good eats, you can’t beat a fall festival. The Berkshires official website, berk
shires.org, is a good source for listings. Coming events include the Hancock Shaker Village annual County Fair (Oct. 6), the Berkshire Botanical Gardens Harvest Festival (Oct. 6-7), and North Adams Open Studios (Oct. 13). Also look for current promotions at berkshires.org/deals.
As for fudge, it isn’t hard to find. We loaded up at Catherine’s Chocolates in Great Barrington. And in the interest of healthful indulgence, we picked up some brownie bites made with sprouted spelt at the Barrington Food Co-op.Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@