Here’s why you need to travel to Hampshire County, “the other side of Massachusetts.”
Massachusetts is so much more than Boston. While Boston is a fabulous city, I’m drawn to the small towns. How about you? And when they’re within a stone’s throw of gorgeous natural scenery, it’s even better.
This is essentially Hampshire County in a nutshell. It’s a collection of small towns in western Massachusetts, all with their own character and sense of community. Add a few outdoor adventures and intriguing discoveries, and you’ve got yourself the perfect getaway to this less frequented side of the state.
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While I covered a lot of ground in a couple of days, this is merely a small sampling of the interesting places in Hampshire County. As this region is within driving distance of my home in Toronto, I hope to make it back at some point in the future to explore even more.
HIKING AND OUTDOORS
Hampshire County is blessed with untouched nature. There are ample opportunities to go out and explore. It’s great to stay in a small town like Northampton because you’re just moments away from miles of hiking trails and spectacular scenery.
While there are several bases to start memorable day hikes, like Mount Holyoke Range State Park and Mount Tom State Reservation, we chose to venture out to JA Skinner State Park. From there, we climbed to the summit of Mount Holyoke for one of the most beautiful views I’ve seen in a long time.
As we were teetering on the brink of rain and only had a limited amount of time to see everything, my travel buddy Lindsay and I chose to take the Halfway Trail to the Mt Holyoke Summit. You can hike right from the bottom or start about halfway up the mountain. Regardless, you’ll get a workout as there’s quite an incline to the top.
To park at this site, it costs $5 for MA locals or $10 for anyone out of state. It’s the same parking rate no matter where you leave your car within the state park boundaries.
If you want the rewarding view without much effort, you can actually drive to the top of the summit as there’s a small parking lot up there.
At the top of Mount Holyoke, enjoy a panoramic view of the surrounding area. There’s also the sprawling summit house, but it’s closed for renovations right now.
AN ARTSY REGION
I’m a massive fan of the arts, and there are a variety of creative outlets and ways to appreciate art in Hampshire County.
In Northampton, make sure you pay a visit to the Smith College Museum of Art. There are four floors of galleries featuring a portion of their permanent collection, as well as rotating special exhibits. There are collections of modern art, art from the ancient world, African art, Asian art, a collection of works on paper, and more.
At Smith College Museum of Art, some of the art is fully functional and used regularly by visitors. For instance, there are artist designed benches throughout the museum. When you stop to rest or admire paintings or sculptures in a seated position, you’ll be sitting on one-of-a-kind benches.
Next, the most surprising feature at Smith College Museum of Art were the artist-designed restrooms. Yes, restrooms! These are the fanciest and most captivating bathrooms I’ve ever seen. They are permanent works of art, and you’re welcome to check out both of them. If you’re visiting the men’s restroom as a lady (and vice versa), it’s a good idea to knock first out of courtesy for those who may be using them.
Thankfully, they weren’t in use when Lindsay and I entered and we took some photos. I think this is the first time I’ve admired and taken pictures of the inside of a public restroom.
SNOW FARM: THE NEW ENGLAND CRAFT PROGRAM
Snow Farm is an artistic retreat in a rural setting. Guests participate in an artistic discipline of their choice, even if they’re completely new to it. Snow Farm is a nonprofit organization with classes led by experts, allowing anyone to attempt or perfect any craft.
Lindsay and I took a tour of the Snow Farm grounds, learning a little bit about each class. Generally, attendees will stay in the dorms for a few days, meeting new people and even making long term friendships. There are a wide variety of workshops, including ceramics, mosaics, painting, fibre arts, glassblowing, woodworking, welding, metal smithing, flameworking, and more.
I’d love to return someday to take a class and learn a new skill!
STREET ART IN NORTHAMPTON
Walking around the streets of Northampton, you can observe street art and murals in interesting places. All over town, we noticed sidewalks, benches, electricity boxes, and the sides of buildings painted in creative ways. The town itself is a living, breathing work of art.
Wander around town and discover it for yourself.
SENSE OF COMMUNITY
Have you ever travelled somewhere and immediately felt a sense of belonging?
It seemed like everywhere we went, people were eager to strike up a conversation and recommend spots for us to check out. I got the impression that the locals were not only friendly, but there was an overwhelming aura of togetherness.
Northampton is very liberal and has a large LGBT community. Overall, Hampshire County is a very welcoming and accepting place.
We witnessed a strong example of community in Easthampton’s Mill 180 Park.
MILL 180 PARK
Mill 180 Park is one of the most unique community spaces I’ve ever encountered. It’s an urban park that’s entirely indoors. Spanning the floor of a century old mill building, Mill 180 Park welcomes anyone to step inside and spend time there.
Unlike other parks, it’s a quiet sanctuary that can be enjoyed no matter what the weather is like outdoors.
There are many spaces to mingle with friends, both old and new. You can spend peaceful moments alone or time with family members of all ages. There are games, like cornhole or checkers.
Mill 180 Park has community events, like yoga classes, live speakers, or musical performances. Art hangs from the walls and ceilings.
Most notably, Mill 180 Park uses hydroponics to grow fresh food all year long. These plants serve both as greenery for the park and double as ingredients for the food served there. They have innovative ways of growing vegetables without soil or the sun – it’s quite amazing.
All year long, they grow and harvest lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, kale, swiss chard, and herbs.
This “park-to-table” concept features meals created from the plants grown on site, as well as other local specialties. Everything is sold for a reasonable price so everyone can access the food, regardless of income. If there is an abundance of one particular plant, it is sold directly to residents at an affordable rate or donated to a local food bank.
While the meals aren’t strictly vegan, there are many vegan selections of soups, sandwiches, salads, and snacks. There’s coffee from a local company, beer from nearby craft breweries, and cocktails with a housemade simple syrup.
The concept behind Mill 180 Park is cutting edge and can be implemented in any city. Food can be grown locally and affordably for everyone to enjoy. Furthermore, it brings the community together and people can get to know one another in a beautiful space.
Hampshire County has dozens of craft breweries and I was able to sample some local brews during my stay. Around the corner from Mill 180 Park in Easthampton (in the same building!), pay a trip to Abandoned Building Brewery. They’ve got a large selection of ales suitable for all tastes, including seasonal varieties.
We wanted to try an assortment of beers, so we opted for a beer flight. My personal favourite was the Blue Barn Saison, based on a Belgian classic pilsner.
You can find their beers at the brewery, as well as numerous establishments in Hampshire County and all over Massachusetts.
Next, we paid a visit to the rooftop bar at Northampton Brewery one evening. We savoured pints on the patio at this popular brewpub. For something a little different, I ordered the Pomona, a sour ale. While you’re at it, take some cans of beer to go!
If you love craft beer, another spot to check out is The Foundry in Northampton. We stumbled upon it as we walked down the street. You’ll find plenty of beer from local microbreweries on tap. I tried the Calabaza Boreal by Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales.
Being a liberal and accepting town, it’s no surprise that Hampshire County is very vegan-friendly. While there aren’t a ton of solely vegetarian or vegan spots, many restaurants had a vegan option or two…or more. Not only was it no problem to maintain a vegan diet, but the food was exceptionally delicious. Here are a few of my recommended places for a yummy vegan meal or snack.
BREAD & BUTTER
Bread & Butter in Amherst has both vegan breakfast and lunch choices. Even though I was technically there around lunch time, that didn’t stop me from ordering breakfast food!
I ordered vegan pancakes with margarine and maple syrup, tempeh sausages, home fries, and a soy latte. The food here was to die for – I think this was my favourite vegan breakfast at a restaurant ever! Everything was tasty, satisfying, and made with love. I swear I probably ate this meal with a huge smile on my face the whole time. It was that good.
For lunch, dinner, or dessert, hop over to Haymarket Cafe in Northampton. It’s a vegetarian cafe with many vegan options clearly marked. There’s a huge glass case full of vegan desserts, too.
I ordered the tempeh burger with the pina colada smoothie. I can’t seem to get enough tempeh, so I was really pleased with this choice. I only wish I could have returned for a second or third meal here. Next time!
Lindsay ordered the “Pasta a La Norma” with roasted tomato, eggplant, and spicy pepper.
SWEETIES FINE CHOCOLATES AND CONFECTIONS
Walking around Northampton, I was drawn to a sign in their shop window stating that there were vegan options inside. Sweeties has the biggest selection of vegan chocolate that I’ve ever seen at a chocolate shop.
There were two whole shelves of dairy-free chocolates of all different flavours. I happily ordered a box of chocolates here. There were also so many vegan candies that ones with dairy in them were specially labelled as “not vegan”, being in the minority. I love that.
BUENO Y SANO
Mexican food is generally a safe bet for vegan options, but this restaurant had several vegan-friendly tacos and burritos. I ordered both a seitan taco and a tofu taco, which also came stuffed with black beans, veggies, and salsa. There was an additional salsa and hot sauce bar where you could make your meal as spicy as you wanted. The portions were huge!
GLAZED DOUGHNUT SHOP
As if I needed more sweets, I headed for an after dinner dessert at Glazed Doughnut Shop in Northampton. There were several vegan donuts, all clearly marked. In fact, we bought the “day old” donuts for only $1 a piece! Fruity pebble donuts? Yes, please!
WHERE TO STAY: HOTEL NORTHAMPTON
If you’re travelling to Hampshire County, the Hotel Northampton is the ideal place to call home. It’s a historic hotel right in the middle of town, so you can walk everywhere.
The hotel is luxurious with elegant rooms and common spaces. We were warmly greeted upon our arrival and felt comfortable throughout our stay. I had a cozy and restful night’s sleep, which allowed for days worth of adventures in Hampshire County.
There was complimentary Wi-Fi, parking, and a continental breakfast. I highly recommend that you stay at Hotel Northampton!
I suggest that you drive your own car or rent a car when traveling here. There are many great attractions and activities all around the county, and you’ll want to have the freedom of driving around on your own.
To view more photos of Hampshire County, please check out my entire travel photo album.
VISIT HAMPSHIRE COUNTY
While you may not have considered travelling to Hampshire County or Western Massachusetts, I encourage you to plan a trip to this region. It’s the ideal road trip destination. While it’s lovely during all seasons, I truly enjoyed my summer getaway here. I imagine it would be quite beautiful during the autumn to view the fall foliage.
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Disclaimer: I was a guest of Hampshire County, MA and Hotel Northampton. My opinions, as always, are entirely my own. I’d travel back to Hampshire County in a heartbeat!