Photograph by Paul Shoul
GPS: 42° 20'N 72° 41'W
The Pioneer Valley's Five College area—a triangle encompassing UMass; Amherst; Hampshire; and two of the Seven Sisters, Mount Holyoke and Smith—is better characterized by its liberté and égalité than fraternities. Undergrads hang mainly in Amherst, while neighboring Northampton provides an escape from the dorms, with a social scene shaped by local outdoor enthusiasts coming in for a good meal, concert at the Calvin, indie flick at the Pleasant Street Theatre, or new music at the Iron Horse.
Nearby Mount Tom State Reservation has cross-country skiing and ice skating in the winter, plus 20 miles (32 kilometers) of hiking and walking trails, and canoeing and fishing on Lake Bray in the more temperate months (www.mass.gov). Great trout fishing abounds on the Deerfield River; visitors travel from all over to fly-fish here. Walt Geryk of the Northeast Fly Fishing Guide Service runs wading and boating trips, especially good for newbies (from $300 for a full day; www.neffguide.com/ma.html). Paddlers can whitewater raft (or lazily tube) down the Deerfield (www.zoaroutdoor.com), and canoe or kayak the Connecticut. Also a road biker's heaven, local faves include routes 47, 5 and 10, 66, and 63 for primo conditions and great scenery. Come winter, the closest downhill skiing can be found at Berkshire East, a small resort with a loyal following, which runs canopy zipline tours in the off-season (www.berkshireeast.com). And a 45 minute day-trip north lands you in the quaint downtown of Brattleboro, Vermont.
The Dirty Truth has a million beers on tap (we exaggerate, but only slightly) and serves solid bistro fare: think mussels and fries, Cuban sandwiches, burgers (www.dirtytruthbeerhall.com). For breakfast and lunch: The Green Bean, whose menu includes a mean bibimbap (+1 413 584 2326). There are endless coffee houses to choose from, but Woodstar has an edge, serving their own pastries in the town's old firehouse (+1 413 585 9777). Source your picnic lunch at Serio's market (www.seriosmarket.com): delicious sandwiches—and local oatmeal chocolate-chip walnut cookies from The Humble Baker. Trust us on this (www.teabread.com).
Hotel Northampton is right in the heart of the town, and is where residents often put up their out-of-towners (doubles from $155; www.hotelnorthampton.com). The Autumn Inn up on the hill by Smith College is a good alternative to downtown (doubles from $119; www.hampshirehospitality.com).