Staff Picks: Getaway Weekend - Christmas in New England

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By Paul Farnsworth

“There’s no place like home for the holidays.”  While truer words have never been sung, a close second would have to be taking a trip to New England during the holiday season. And when it comes to New England during Christmas time, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a prettier place than the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. They have been celebrating Christmas in the Pioneer Valley for over 400 years now, and there’s some very special traditions that really make it a magical time of year.


The Pioneer Valley  basically consists of the western Massachusetts villages and towns along the Connecticut River from the Connecticut border north to Vermont. It’s only about a three-hour drive from New York City, but it’s worlds apart when it comes to the peace, quiet, and charm. Forget the chain hotels when deciding on a place to stay…choose from one of the dozens of bed-and-breakfasts or historic inns.


The Hotel Northampton, built in 1927, is a perfect example of old Yankee hospitality.  Go back in time and warm your bones by a roaring fire…or get a hot toddy in the lounge.  Their Wiggins Tavern is an absolute must visit.   Built originally in 1786 in New Hampshire, the tavern and its 300 year-old fireplaces were moved beam by beam and stone by stone to Northampton. Famous guests include Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Do yourself a favor…stay for the Sunday brunch, you will thank me later.


Another great place to stay is the Boltwood Tavern in Amherst. Built in 1926, it was long known as the Lord Jeffery Inn but underwent a massive renovation in 2011.  The classic New England inn is within walking distance to numerous museums, restaurants, shops  and has its own fantastic farm-to-table inspired restaurant - 30Boltwood.


The Deerfield Inn has been the centerpiece of historic Deerfield since 1884 and has been “ welcoming gentlefolk on horse and carriage from then to now.”  Another classic inn with roaring fireplaces, an 18-seat mahogany bar, and a seasonally driven menu featuring many local farms. Step back in time and try the Indian Pudding at Champney’s Restaurant & Tavern. The inn is set on the mile-long Old Main Street, adorned by gorgeous homes from the 18th and 19th-century, two schools, and three working farms. The street is the site of the famous Raid on Deerfield in 1704 in which French and Indian forces killed 56 colonists and took 112 captives.  The town now has 11 houses that serve as living museums of those colonial times.



Other charming villages and towns to visit include South Hadley, which has fabulous restaurants and shops. The Yarde Tavern is housed in the old town meeting house which was built in 1732, and Johnny’s Tavern is guaranteed to bring on some holiday cheer.  In Williamsburg, The Brewmaster’s Tavern has been a cozy place to snuggle since 1812. Any stop in Williamsburg wouldn’t be complete without checking out the General Store which has everything from fresh baked goods to ice cream plus an amazing selection of unique gifts for under the tree.


For those of you who crave a little bit of hustle and bustle during the holidays, Springfield has a brand new MGM Casino. The city is also home to The Student Prince & The Fort (est. 1935).  Between its famous 32 ounce glasses in the shape of a boot and the historic steins on the wall, you’ll think you’ve been transported to Bavaria at Christmas time.


The Pioneer Valley is not just for romantic getaways…bring the kids. There is plenty for them to do. Yankee Candle in Deerfield is a virtual theme park where kids can take train rides, make their own candles, get wax impressions of their hands, and marvel at the all the lights.  The Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield has wonderful interactive exhibits for kids of all ages. The Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory will delight the youngest in your family. And Bright Nights at Forest Park and its amazing collection of holiday lights is one of the top holiday attractions in the U.S.



Christmas in New England isn’t some fairytale or Hollywood movie. It’s an old farmhouse with a single candle in each window. It’s kids singing Christmas carols. It’s a little one telling the big guy what’s on their list. It’s sitting by a centuries-old fireplace, roaring with yule logs. It’s hot chocolate after you’ve cut down your own Christmas tree. If you can’t be home for the holidays, visit the Pioneer Valley. It's the most wonderful time of year.  



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