alford-loop-cue-sheet

Awesome Berkshires Biking – The Alford Loop

The Berkshires has some of the most scenic bicycle riding on the East Coast. One of my favorite rides is known as the Alford Loop, which takes you through some really beautiful spots in Great Barrington & Alford. The Loop is an an approximately 24 mile ride, round trip, from the center of Great Barrington (the ride above is slightly longer because it leaves from just outside of town, on Rte 7). You can easily make the ride shorter by turning back if & when you get tired.

Alford Cows

Alford Loop Pastoral

I never tire of riding the Alford Loop. It’s like the greatest hits of Berkshires biking because you get to take in the vast breadth of the natural splendor here. You’ll travel on rolling country roads, surrounded by beautiful farmland, open wildflower meadows, babbling brooks, rivers & streams & get some of the best mountain views around. And, there’s all sorts of wildlife abound. On one of my recent Alford Loop rides, I witnessed a porcupine scampering across the road at dusk & there are always lots of cows (not to worry – they’re behind fences (most of the time…), white tail deer, horses, foxes, rabbits & oodles of beautiful birds. And, there are generally very few cars on the roads for the Alford portion of the ride. You’ll be fine doing this ride on a hybrid bike. While a road bike is always nice, it definitely is not necessary. You can click the featured image above for a printable ride map & cue sheet or, you can also  click on this link.

More Alford Loop Scenery

Alford Loop Meadow & Mountains

If you’re in need of a bike rental, a tune-up or repair of your own bike, or just need some new equipment or accessories, Berkshire Bike & Board, located just outside of downtown Great Barrington, on Rte 7, is great. They also run free group rides during the summer & have free maps at the shop with some of the other popular Berkshires rides.

If you’re interested in other rides in the Berkshires, just give me a shout. Have a blast on the Alford Loop & enjoy the scenery!

Meatballs 2

Great Berkshires Restaurants & Bars for Visiting Day Weekend

Some of you will be visiting your kids for visiting day this weekend at one of the many sleep-away camps in & around the Berkshires. Over the last several weeks, I’ve received numerous requests from sleep-away camp parents for Berkshires lodging & restaurant recommendations.  I’ve compiled a quick list of some of the restaurants here. Sure, there are plenty more great places to eat & drink here – but I wanted to give you a quick few in the event you’re in a jam & still haven’t booked reservations.

Great Barrington

Master Mixologist Walter

Walter: Allium’s Master Mixologist

Our go-to, favorite restaurant in the Berkshires is Allium, located at 42 Railroad St. in Great Barrington.  The food is locally sourced (i.e. “farm-to-table”) & is off the charts delicious. The nice thing about Allium’s menu is that it has rotating small plates, in addition to normal size entrees – so you can easily share a bunch of different dishes with your table. My wife & I just ate there the other night & among our usual small plates of fried pickled red onions with garlic aoli; farro with snap peas, radishes, pistachios, pecorino, arugula, basil, mint; & fish tacos with almond romesco & lime slaw – we had the striped bass.  The fish was prepared beautifully with a super tasty sauce on the side & the accompanying locally harvested carrots were unbelievably sweet & succulent. The vibe at Allium is really fun & the service is warm & attentive. Allium also has a terrific bar with master mixologist Walter at the helm. In the event Allium’s tables are all booked up by the time you call, it’s also nice to have dinner at the bar.

Egremont

John Andrews

John Andrews

One of our favorite restaurants in Egremont is John Andrews Restaurant, located at 224 Hillsdale Rd. (it also fronts Rte 23). John Andrews is another awesome Berkshires farm-to-table restaurant & always serves inventive, yet straightforward, outstanding cuisine. The owner & chef, Dan Smith, is so talented & the menu changes weekly – featuring the freshest, in-season produce from local farms. If you like lamb & the Berle Farm lamb is on the menu – be sure to order it! No matter what the style, Dan Smith is a man who knows knows how to prepare lamb! John Andrews also has an extensive selection of wines, cocktails & craft beers.

West Stockbridge

Truc

Truc Orient Express

One of the first things we sought out when we moved here from the NYC suburbs was good, authentic Asian food.  And, we found it, right in our own neighborhood, at Truc Orient Express, located an awesome Vietnamese restaurant located at 3 Harris Street in West Stockbridge (coming from Great Barrington, when you get to Main St. in W. Stockbridge, turn left onto Depot Street. Take a left into the driveway just past Rouge Restaurant & you’ll see Truc’s restaurant straight back). The food here is delicious & authentic & the co-owner, Louie, couldn’t be a sweeter guy.

Stockbridge

We love eating at Widow Bigham’s Tavern at the Red Lion Inn – located at 30 Main Street.  If you’re up for something more formal, the main dining room at the Red Lion Inn is also always a treat. Chef Brian Alberg’s creative & delicious creations never disappoint. Click here for my earlier post on Bigham’s Tavern. And, when your done eating, be sure to head downstairs for a nightcap at The Lion’s Den, which always has great live music.  If you happen to be here when Sun Mountain Fiddler is playing, get their early.  These guys are super talented, loads of fun & always pack the house.

Becket

Dream Away Lodge

Dream Away Lodge

For a one of a kind Berkshires dining & drinking experience, head to The Dream Away Lodge located at 1342 County Road in Becket. The food is great, the decor super funky & the place chock full of music history. In fact, back in 1975, members of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue—including Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez & Allen Ginsberg—dropped by the former speakeasy & brothel & ended up staying all day making music. The Dream Away is also a great place to grab drinks & hang out with  friends. They have an outdoor bar with a large firepit, plenty of seating & they usually have live music on weekends.  Check here for their live music schedule.

Lenox

Brava Wine Bar

Brava Wine Bar

Alta Restaurant & Wine Bar, located at 34 Church St. in Lenox is always great. Their menu has a wide variety of dishes, the ambience is really nice & they make great specialty cocktails.  And, Brava Wine Bar, located at 27 Housatonic Street is another great choice for dinner or drinks – with an awesome selection of hard to find craft beers on tap & lots of great wines by the glass.

So…have a great visiting day & an even better dinner afterwards!

 

 

 

 

Butterfly Large

Fly Like a Butterfly in Housatonic

I’ve driven past Project-Native Gardens in Housatonic countless times – always making a mental note to stop by the next time I go by. I’d recently read about Project Native’s Butterfly House & when we had NYC house guests over this past weekend, we decided to visit Project Native with the kids.

Project Native & its Butterfly House is a great destination for adults & kids alike. There’s no admission fee –  though as a not-for-profit, they accept donations. The Butterfly House is a screened-in 35-by-55-foot structure with lots of native plants &, you guessed it, native Berkshire butterflies! Project Native’s mission is to promote, restore & sustain native habitats in the Berkshires. It’s located at 342 North Plain Rd. (Rte 41), just 4 miles north of Great Barrington.

Butterfly House

The Butterfly House

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by cheery Dylan, a recent Oklahoma State University graduate who’s working at Project Native this summer as an Environmental Education Intern. The kids immediately took a shine to Dylan & she took us right to the Butterfly House. As the butterflies flitted around us, Dylan not only identified each one, but also enthralled the kids (& us) with colorful explanations about their life cycle, what they like to eat, the different breeds that are native to the Berkshires, etc. The kids peppered Dylan with questions & she patiently answered each one. The kids couldn’t get enough of the butterflies & it was so awesome hearing their giddy laughter each time a colorful butterfly landed on them. My daughter & her friend were lucky enough to have several butterflies land right into their waiting open hands.

butterfly group

In the Palms of Our Hands –  Just Where we Want Em’!

After a half-hour or so in the Butterfly House, Dylan asked the kids if they wanted to go outside for a butterfly safari around Project Native’s grounds. Surprise, surprise – all of the kids responded in unison with a resounding YES!  Project Native’s grounds have glorious mountain views & 22 acres of meadow for butterflies, insects, ground nesting birds & hummingbirds. Dylan outfitted each of the kids with their “safari gear” –  butterfly nets & bug boxes – explaining that all of the butterflies the kids caught would be brought into the Butterfly House & then released by them for other visitors to enjoy. The kids ended up catching a bunch of butterflies & were so excited as they released each one into the Butterfly House. To say the kids (& we) had a blast would be a gross understatement. In fact, when lunch time arrived & our adult stomachs started grumbling, the kids begged to stay longer – in spite of our promises of ice cream for dessert at SoCo Creamery.

Butterfly Safari Girls

Shhh! Be Vewy, Vewy Quiet. I’m Hunting Butterfwies!

Needless to say, we’ll be back to Project Native very soon – especially since they’re expecting even more monarch butterflies in the coming weeks. So, next time your driving on Rte 41, stop by & visit Project Native. Have a blast with the butterflies!

 

 

 

 

 

Pillow

You’ve Got to Go To Jacob’s Pillow

During our vacations in the Berkshires, I’d often hear people rave about Jacob’s Pillow – the renowned dance festival that takes place every summer in Beckett. The Pillow is approximately a 35 minute drive from Great Barrington & this year, the festival runs through August 24th.

What’s always intrigued me about the Pillow is just how passionate people are about the place. Many people will tell you that their first exposure to a live dance performance was at Jacob’s Pillow & that ever since, they can’t get enough & now visit the Pillow many times each summer.

Last summer, my wife & I attended our first full length, live dance performance, at the Pillow, & like so many others, we too were smitten by the place. And, just last week, we took the kids to the Pillow for their first time – &, no surprise – they’re also hooked.

Pillow Kids

Strolling the Pillow Grounds

In the last week alone, we’ve seen 2 separate performances at the Pillow. The first performance was by the Trey McIntire Project – simply amazing. The second half of that performance was titled “Mecury Half-Life” & was set entirely to the music of classic rock band Queen – one of my son’s favorites. The second performance we took in was “Unreal Hip Hop” - super creative, high energy & lots of fun for both us & the kids.

An afternoon or evening at the Pillow isn’t just about the dance performance, but also about having lunch or dinner there, strolling the grounds & soaking up the spectacular setting & energy of the dancers & dance students from around the globe. If you arrive an hour or so before your scheduled performance, you’ll have plenty of time to picnic or dine at one of the Pillow’s 3 dining establishments – The Café at Jacob’s Pillow, The Barre at the Café & the Pillow Pub. We really like the Pillow Pub. It has nice sandwiches & a great selection of local, craft beers on tap.

Pillow Pub

The Pillow Pub

The Pillow also has many free outdoor performances throughout the summer – known as “Inside/Out Performances”  – set in an outdoor amphitheater with breathtaking mountain views. Not to be missed.

Have a blast at the Pillow!

 

Ashuwillitcook both

Berkshires Biking- The Ashuwillticook Rail Trail

One of our favorite outdoor family activities in the Berkshires is biking. This will be the first of several posts on some of our favorite bike rides here.

We love biking here not only because it’s a great workout but also because you get to take in all of the natural beauty of the Berkshires – the rolling hills, glorious mountains, pastoral farmland, crystal clear lakes & lots of wildlife (In fact, I just observed a porcupine scurrying across the road on my last ride!). The bike rides here range from relatively flat & easy to very hilly & challenging.

One of our favorite rides with the kids is the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail (say that 10 times fast), in Lanesborough. The reason why this makes for such a great family ride is that it’s mostly flat & not too strenuous. Yet, you get to ride alongside beautiful lakes (including the 418 acre Cheshire Reservoir), mountains, streams & babbling brooks – without car traffic (with the exception of a couple of crossings that are clearly marked & difficult for the kids to get through on their own, because of strategically placed barriers).

Ahuwillitcook Ava

Cheshire Reservoir. Awesome!

The Ashuwillticook Rail Trail is a former railroad corridor converted into a 10-foot wide paved trail. It’s also a great place for jogging & rollerblading. The Rail Trail runs parallel to Route 8 through the towns of Cheshire, Lanesborough & Adams. The southern end of the rail trail (which is where you’ll probably want to start) begins at the entrance to the Berkshire Mall off MA Rte. 8 in Lanesborough & travels 11.2 miles north to the center of Adams. So, the total ride is 22 miles and takes several hours. It’s just under a 40 minute drive from downtown Great Barrington to the start of the Rail Trail – well worth the trip.

There’s a cute little ice cream shop along the ride – in Cheshire – that also sells cold beverages. And, when you get to the end of the trail in Adams, there’s a really nice visitor’s center with very clean restrooms & snack machines. Once inside the visitors center be sure to check out the Thunderbolt Ski Museum which features a fun exhibit (with a movie) on the 10th Mountain Division & the now legendary Thunderbolt Ski Race.

Thunderbolt Ski Museum in Adams

Thunderbolt Ski Museum in Adams

The Thunderbolt Ski Race started in the 1930s & still takes place every year on nearby Mount Greylock - the highest point in Massachussets.  Once in Adams, you can also walk around the streets near the Visitors Center & check out the beautiful classic brick mill buildings – some of which have been converted into loft residences.

Have a blast on the Rail Trail!

 

 

Pink & White

Awesome Art & Dining in Columbia County

One of the great things about living & vacationing in the Massachussets Berkshires is that you get the triple benefit of not just the Massachusetts Berkshires, but also what’s often referred to as the neighboring New York Berkshires & Connecticut Berkshires. The NY Berkshires, in Columbia County, is chock full of arts & culture, outdoor activities & amazing food & restaurants. One of of our favorite Columbia County day trips from West Stockbridge is to the OMI International Arts Center in Ghent, with a dinner stop afterward in Philmont, NY.

OMI has a fantastic, fun & whimsical outdoor sculpture park & there’s nothing like walking around & exploring the the grounds on a nice day. While we enjoy all of the sculptures, our kids’ go-to favorite has been  “A Simple Network of Underground Wells & Tunnels” as they can actually climb down ladders into the sculpture & crawl through it. In addition to OMI’s sculpture park, they’ve got rotating indoor exhibits at the Visitors Center & Gallery  –  a stunning building that also features a great cafe.  And, if you’re up in the Berkshires this weekend, OMI is having its Season Opening Exhibition on June 13 & 14.

We're IN the sculpture!

Yes…we’re INSIDE the sculpture!

 

After you’re done strolling around the OMI grounds & have worked up an appetite, I suggest heading for dinner at one of our two favorite Columbia County restaurants  – both located in Philmont, NY.  Philmont is a short 15 minute or so drive from OMI.  The Main Street Public House Pub, located 12 Main Street (Route 217) has awesome pub style food with a great selection of microbrew beers on tap.  On the first Friday of each month, they serve a great fish & chips special. Their burgers, made with locally sourced beef from nearby Kinderhook Farm (another great place to visit – but I’ll cover that in a separate blog post) are also off the charts.  Note – the Pub takes cash only.

Main St. Public House

If you’re up for something a bit more upscale (yet not the least bit pretentious), I strongly recommend Local 111, which is at 111 Main Street, just up the hill from the Main Street Public House Pub. Josephine Proul, who’s been the super creative executive chef at Local 111 for the past six years just purchased the restaurant. The menu has something for everyone & covers the the rich bounty provided by the wealth of local farms in the surrounding Hudson Valley. Local 111 has a great wine selection & we just love the vibe & ambience there.

Local 111

Local 111

Enjoy your day in Columbia County & happy eating in Philmont!

 

Richmond Pond

We’ve Got the Kayaks!

One of our favorite outdoor activities in the Berkshires is kayaking. Kayaking can be a great cardio workout or you can just take it slow & soak up (sorry, couldn’t resist) the beautiful surroundings. I find being out on the water early in the morning or at dusk so magical & peaceful. There are so many great lakes in the Berkshires where you can just drop in your kayak from the boat launch, paddle away & explore. Some of my favorite lakes for kayaking are Richmond Pond in Richmond (great fishing & we’ve spotted bald eagles and beavers there too), Stockbridge Bowl  (there are boat launches in both Stockbridge & Lenox) & Lake Mansfield in Great Barrington (just up the hill from downtown).

My son kayaking & fishing on Richmond Pond

My Son – Living the Life on Richmond Pond

Thinking of buying a kayak? Well, kayaks were one of our first purchases when we moved to the Berkshires. We found the employees at EMS in Lanesboro (at the Lanesboro Mall) to be extremely knowledgeable & helpful with our search. Be sure to ask if Nate, the store manager, is going to be in when you go, as he’s super knowledgeable on kayak & paddle choices. And, he’ll also help you choose & install the appropriate car racks for your car. If fishing is your thing, Nate can also set you up with a fishing rod holder that easily clips on to your kayak so the rod doesn’t get in the way when you’re paddling.

If you’re not quite ready to purchase a kayak but still want to give kayaking a try, you can rent kayaks from the Arcadian Shop in Lenox. For an extra fee, they’ll even deliver to the public boat launch at Stockbridge Bowl and Decker’s Landing on the Housatonic River (in Lenox) with pickup at Woods Pond.

Happy paddling!

race brook upper falls

Hiking Mount Race – Waterfalls, Awesome Views, Babbling Brooks & More!

I just did one of my favorite Berkshires day hikes with my son – Mount Race in Sheffield. This hike offers the best of everything. You get to see a beautiful waterfall (Race Brook Falls, which you’ll reach at approximately the 1.1 mile mark), climb boulders, see multiple smaller falls, cross babbling brooks & then top it off with fantastic views into Connecticut & beyond from the summit.  And, the majestic hawks soaring right above your head are an added plus.

The total hike is approximately 5.5 miles and has some good vertical climbs – so be sure to wear appropriate footwear, allow yourself around 5 hours or so & bring plenty of water & snacks. To get to the trail from Great Barrington, take Route 41 South and approximately 1.9 miles past the Berkshire School, you’ll see the trailhead on the right (look for the parked cars). If the parking area is full, you can park along Route 41 but just make sure your car is really off the road and on the grass.

Once on the trail, at about the ¼ mile mark, you’ll see a signpost for Race Brook Falls. Bear left at the sign post. Follow the blue blazes up the trail & when you get to the Appalachian Trail sign post, bear left & follow the white blazes. Once you start seeing the pine forest, you’ve almost reached the summit, with its magnificent views.

We've reached the top!

We’ve reached the summit. YES!

 

If your limited on time, want something less strenuous & have approximately 1 hour, you can visit the lower falls, which will be an approximately 1.4 mile round trip hike. Just stay straight when you get to the 1st sign post at the beginning of the trail.

Have a blast on your hike!

mahaiwe-performing-arts

Don’t Miss the BIFF & The Big Takeover Band

The Berkshire International Film Festival kicks off this coming Thursday night, May 29th, at the Mahawie Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington with a screening of May in the Summer. The festival runs through Sunday June 1st with screeinngs at the Mahawie Theater in Great Barrington, the Great Barrington Triplex & the Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield. In addition to a wide array of films from around the world, many of the films’ writers & directors are in attendance and do Q&As with the audience after the screenings. I attended last year’s festival & the event was outstanding. The highlight for me was the screening of Crash Real, after which Kevin Pearce, along with his family (his father is renowned glass blower Simon Pearce) gave a powerful talk & took questions from the audience.  During the day, there were also some great bands playing on Railroad Street.  If you’re thinking of coming up & need a place to stay, the Days Inn Great Barrington is super convenient as it’s only a block away from the Mahawie & the Triplex & a quick walk to Great Barrington’s awesome shopping & restaurants.

On Friday night, May 30th, a great ska band  – The Big Takeover Band – will play at the Gypsy Joynt Cafe on Main Street in Great Barrington. I saw these guys last year & they rocked. And, the Gypsy Joynt’s food & drink never disapoint.

Gypsy Joynt, GB

Gypsy Joynt, GB

Enjoy the shows!

Rawson Brook I

The Best Goat Cheese – Straight from the Farm, in Monterey

If you want a true Berkshires experience that’s fun for all ages & if you love goat cheese as much as we do, you owe it to yourself to visit Rawson Brook Farm, located at 185 New Marlborough Rd., in Monterey. The farm is tucked away, right off New Marlborough Road, which is the right hand turn just past the Monterey library. Rawson Brook Farms is where Monterey Chevre, the Berkshires’ fantastic award winning goat cheese is made.

 

Rawson Brook II

Hello kids!

When you visit, you’ll get to see all of the cute goats grazing & be sure to stop into the cheese kitchen/milking parlor to buy your super fresh goat cheese. They’ve got 3 delicious varieties –  plain, thyme & olive oil. My favorite is the olive oil. Just choose your bounty from the fridge & leave your money in the basket. Honors system here… Our kids love making the trip with us as they get to say hello to all of the goats. And, if you go late in the day, you might even get to watch the goats being milked. Have fun & happy eating!