Best of New England: Massachusetts

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Lodging

Inn : Modern
THE PORCHES INN AT MASS MOCA
This northern Berkshires spot was converted from row houses formerly occupied by mill workers. The hipster sensibility is unmistakable, though some of the original down-home charms are retained by breakfast service that arrives in lunch pails and souvenir auto-touring plates on the walls. There are also plenty of modern comforts, including down duvets and a swanky lobby bar. Outside, guests enjoy a year-round heated pool, a bonfire pit, and a forest gazebo complete with wireless Internet. And the mill next door? It’s now the celebrated Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. // 231 River St., North Adams, 413-664-0400, porches.com

B&B : City
THE CHARLES STREET INN
Walk through a narrow door into one of the cavernous rooms at this nine-room Victorian-themed inn, light a fire, and you’d swear you were staying at a country retreat, not a B&B in the heart of downtown Boston. But despite rich period furnishings and the general air of quietude, all the excitement of Charles Street and Boston Common is just steps from the front door. // 94 Charles St., Boston, 877-772-8900, charlesstreetinn.com

Resort : Spa
CHATHAM BARS INN
If Fitzgerald had created Jay Gatsby today, he might have installed his protagonist at the Chatham Bars Inn. The 1914 hotel’s foyer alone, with its polished floors and columns, is irreproachably classy. Still a place where old New England summers, the property encompasses 25 acres, four restaurants, a spa, and more than 210 guest rooms and cottages (a handful of which sit on bluffs overlooking the Atlantic). // 297 Shore Rd., Chatham, 508-945-0096, chathambarsinn.com.

Hotel : General Excellence
FOUR SEASONS
After all these years, Boston’s premier hotel property manages to exude classic New England style while still keeping up with the times. The unflappable service and prime location overlooking the Public Garden inspire fierce loyalty to this local institution, which completed a total makeover in 2008. Flat-screen TVs and marble-topped dressers have replaced timeworn furniture and outdated décor, making for a style that’s anything but fusty. // 200 Boylston St., Boston, 617-338-4400, fourseasons.com/boston.

Hotel : Luxury
MANDARIN ORIENTAL
For some reason, the word “luxury” in these parts tends to get modified by adjectives like “classic,” “old-world,” and “traditional.” Well, kudos to the Mandarin for showing that edginess and sophistication can go hand in hand. From the moment you enter, floor-to-ceiling art and Asian minimalist design combine to create a sexy, modern vibe. Upstairs, plush rooms feature enviable views of the Back Bay’s townhouses, while downstairs you’ll find three of Boston’s most talked-about dining destinations: L’Espalier, the region’s flagship Sel de la Terre outpost, and Asana. // 776 Boylston St., Boston, 617-535- 8888, mandarinoriental.com/boston
 
Resort : Family
OCEAN EDGE RESORT AND GOLF CLUB
This place proves summer after summer that “family vacation” isn’t an oxymoron. The mid-Cape institution has hit upon a formula that every (supposedly) family-friendly resort should copy: three-bedroom suites to maximize personal space; kitchens, so you can avoid public mealtime meltdowns; and in-suite washer-dryers. Ocean Edge also hosts beachside campfires, barbecues, and ice cream socials, plus one different day camp for kids each week. You may even find time to hit the resort’s Nicklaus Design golf course or get a facial in the spa before the tots notice you’re gone. // 2907 Main St., Brewster, 508-896-9000, oceanedge.com.

Resort : Romantic
BLANTYRE
Take a sprawling English-style country house, fill it with dark wood and period antiques, and plop it down in the middle of a secluded area in the bucolic Berkshire Hills, and you have a place that could inspire even the most jaded lovers to recitations of poetry. But it’s the flawless service here that really puts this hotel over the top. Whether you want 24-hour in-room dining, a “hydrolifting” facial at the Potting Shed Spa, or a rare vintage from Blantyre’s peerless wine cellar, staffers deliver it with élan. // 16 Blantyre Rd., Lenox, 413-637-3556, blantyre.com.   

Resort : Seaside
THE WAUWINET
As if the mesmerizing elegance of this Relais & Châteaux property — with its top-notch restaurant (and wine list with 1,400 selections), luxury spa, two private beaches, and “no-children-under-12” policy — weren’t enough, the Wauwinet is also situated in one of the most glorious spots on Nantucket: nine miles from civilization on the island’s northeastern tip. The folks here have thought of every detail to make your stay as romantic as possible, down to the 400-thread-count Pratesi linens, the hot buttered popcorn and DVDs delivered to your door, and the couples’ massages. You may never leave the resort, let alone your room. // 120 Wauwinet Rd., Nantucket, 508-228-0145, wauwinet.com

Dining

Seafood : Upscale
ISLAND CREEK OYSTER BAR
Some places are just right for producing certain kinds of edibles — the right soil, the right temperature, the right weather. It turns out Massachusetts’ Duxbury Bay has the perfect tides for oyster farming, as Island Creek Oyster Company’s fresh and briny shellfish have masterfully shown. They’re shucked daily at the company’s happening new restaurant, which also showcases seafood dishes created by chef Jeremy Sewall that are as fresh in concept as in ingredients — for example, pan-roasted monkfish in lobster broth with white-bean ragout and fennel. // 500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-532-5300, islandcreekoysterbar.com.  

Bistro
BLEU
The Cape does fried seafood really, really well. Beyond that…dining in the area can be hit-or-miss. Loire Valley expat Frederic Feufeu reels it in with authentic French bistro fare the likes of which the Cape has never seen: cassoulet with duck confit; poached foie gras au torchon; escargot in garlic butter. // 10 Market St., Mashpee, 508-539-7907, bleurestaurant.com

Steakhouse
GRILL 23 & BAR
Let the newcomers show off their newfangled steakhouse specialties; people who really love steak will always return to Boston’s exemplar of the genre. Here you’ll find dry-aged, bone-in chops and tenderloins that drip with flavor in each juicy bite. The vibe — gold rails, leather banquettes, white-coated waiters — is classic without seeming clubby. // 161 Berkeley St., Boston, 617-542-2255, grill23.com.

Sandwiches
THE BLACK SHEEP
Everyone knows a great sandwich starts with the bread, and the bakers at this perennial favorite of hungry college students come in early in the morning to bake theirs from scratch. From there, sandwichistas overfill them with the best deli cuts and grilled meats in classic combinations — Black Forest ham and Brie; grilled chicken and guacamole — to create the centerpiece for any fantastic Pioneer Valley picnic. And for vegetarians and vegans, the deli has plenty of options without meat, too. // 79 Main St., Amherst, 413-253-3442, blacksheepdeli.com.
 
Romantic
WHEATLEIGH
We’re not saying the views from the dining room of this grand 19th-century Italianate palazzo make the food taste better. But there’s something about sitting in the glassed-in portico with a view of the sun setting over lake and mountains that perhaps makes diners better appreciate both their meal as well as the company with whom they share it. An eight-course tasting allows couples to linger over an old-world European menu of foie gras and venison, along with a first-rate wine list and service as attentive as at the finest Parisian hotel. // 11 Hawthorne Rd., Lenox, 413-637-0610, wheatleigh.com.

Lunch
HOT DOG ANNIE’S
It’s hard to place the exact ingredients that make up the house signature sauce — an addictive barbecue-onion mixture that has led generations to this off-the-beaten-track hot dog stand with its siren call. What is clear is that it tastes damn good on a hot dog, especially on the small and skinny, slightly crunchy ones grilled up without ceremony at this shack behind Worcester’s airport. Order three dogs for less than five bucks, and ask for some extra sauce to take home. // 244 Paxton St., Leicester, 508-892-9059.   

Drinks : At Sunset
THE CHART ROOM
Sure, it’s a scene out of a Vineyard Vines catalog, but the views of the setting sun from the Chart Room’s lawn mercifully eclipse all the beautiful people in their Nantucket reds (and make it worth the wait for a gin and tonic). Grab an Adirondack chair and while away the afternoon watching boats motor into the marina. You’ll be glad you got there early. // One Shipyard Ln., Cataumet, 508-563-5350, chartroomcataumet.com.  

Fried Clams
THE BITE
The lines are long, the seating is sparse, and forget about finding a parking space at this Vineyard clam shack outside the fishing village of Menemsha. But trust us, it’ll all be worth it when you slurp up the bellies here, which have just the right balance between oil and crunch. Take a cartonful down to the dock on a summer day, and you won’t need much else. // 29 Basin Rd., Menemsha, Martha’s Vineyard, 508-645-9239, thebitemenemsha.com

Seafood : Casual
THE BLACK EDDY
There’s simply no better place to take in a sunset than the deck of the Eddy — preferably with a PBR or a ’gansett in hand, and a bowl of smoky clam chowder or the signature stuffed clams on the table. And when the blues are running in Nantucket Sound, you can forget about ordering anything else. Everything is freshly sourced and cooked with minimum pretension, making the meals here the stuff of vacation memories. // One Bridge Rd., Westport, 508-636-6500, thebackeddy.com.    

Wine List
AMERICAN SEASONS
Unless you’ve spent some time really exploring Napa, you’re not likely to recognize many of the 500-plus bottles on American Seasons’ wine list. Which suits us just fine. Sommelier Orla Murphy-LaScola does the homework for us: She spends the off-season traveling out West, meeting with small-production winemakers — Dumol, Pax, Araujo, Owen Roe — and developing rare partnerships that allow her to secure wines not often served on the East Coast. Her finds are sublime — as is the fare that accompanies them. // 80 center St., Nantucket, 508-228-7111, americanseasons.com.

Shopping

Women’s Clothing Boutique
GYPSY
The perfect excuse to “forget” to pack enough clothing for your island getaway, Gypsy is fully stocked with big names like Céline, Isabel Marant, and Rick Owens. And if your current vacation plans don’t require a $2,500 Lanvin cocktail dress, remember: Plans can change. // 20 Federal St., Nantucket, 508-228-4404, gypsyusa.com.

Gifts
HUDSONS
When you want to get a truly original gift for your best friend or the happy couple, this is the place to come. Run by two former art professors, Hudsons is a well-curated mélange of antiques, accessories, and contemporary-art pieces. (Steel-mesh icosahedron, anyone?) There are also plenty of traditional paintings and antiques from which to choose. // 1112 Mass MoCa Way, North Adams, 413-664-6530, hudsonsart.com.

Home Accessories
LEKKER UNIQUE HOME FURNISHINGS
Owner and founder Natalie Carpenter sought to create a store that harnessed the artistic energy of the South End; her foresight and discerning eye for Scandinavian design quickly catapulted the shop to success. Thanks to wares such as textured Pols Potten glasses and fired-clay Chris Stiles figurines, Lekker is still the city leader in outstanding contemporary décor. // 1317 Washington St., Boston, 617-542-6464, lekkerhome.com.

Bookstore
ANDOVER BOOKSTORE
A working fireplace and mismatched, well-worn furniture make the Andover look more like a private library than a retail store. The atmosphere at this 200-year-old spot (the second-oldest bookshop in the country) is neither modern nor musty — just wonderfully comfortable. The selection, meanwhile, is something you’ll never find on Amazon — an essential collection of both classic and contemporary work, enhanced by a highly educated staff with an enthusiasm for the written word that is nothing short of contagious. // 89R Main St., Andover, 978-475-0143, andoverbookstore.com.

Toy Store
PERSNICKETY TOYS
You won’t find any beeping plastic doodads here. The name of this shop evokes both the fantastical nature of the toys on sale and the owner’s choosiness in selecting only those that meet her exacting standards. Shelves here overflow with interactive gadgets and games, science kits, and beautifully illustrated books, all designed to boost creativity. Plus, the store espouses a hands-on philosophy, so youngsters can try out everything before their parents pony up their allowances. // 13 Eagle St., North Adams, 413-662-2990.  

Attractions 

Beach
CRANE BEACH
“Majestic” hardly does justice to the landscape at Crane, where sand-swept hills roll sweetly to a pristine shore. To the north, Plum Island creates a welcome barrier from rough surf, while a ban on watercraft and gear keeps man-made disturbances to a minimum. Most visitors are content to soak up the tranquil beauty. However, this beach is also a wildlife refuge, meaning its five-plus miles of trails may reward hikers with glimpses of rare species. // Argilla Road, Ipswich, 978-356-4354, thetrustees.org.

Unexpected Treasure
CLARK ART INSTITUTE
For sheer jaw-dropping potential, few small art museums surpass the Clark — a fact made all the more amazing by its remote location in the boondocks of the northern Berkshires. Most of the museum’s famed Impressionist collection is out on a three-year tour. But you can still get your 19th-century fix with the new “Pissarro’s People” exhibit, starting June 12. Equally rewarding is the American gallery, featuring haunting and emotional paintings by the likes of Sargent, Homer, and Remington. // 225 South St., Williamstown, 413-458-2303, clarkart.edu.

Art Museum
MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS
Boston’s foremost art museum has it all: mummies and amphorae, French impressionists, and abstract expressionists. The jaw-dropping highlight, however, is the Arts of the Americas Wing, opened in fall 2010, which has taken many pieces formerly displayed in dark basement galleries and given them space to breathe in a brightly lit, glassed-in viewing area. The galleries themselves are nearly as inspiring as the art they feature. // 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, 617-267-9300, mfa.org.
 
Historical Site
PLIMOTH PLANTATION
Everyone knows the story of how the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, held a Thanksgiving, and created a nation. And yes, this is a faithful re-creation of the Plymouth colony, where children can watch costumed handymen ply their trades and go about their daily duties. What makes this place head-and-shoulders above, however, is the way it has changed with the times to seamlessly incorporate new scholarship about the Pilgrims — and especially about their counterparts, the Wampanoags (duly represented at a neighboring re-creation of a Native American village). The result is an accurate depiction of early American life that doesn’t shy away from taking on sacred cows. (Exhibit A: The story of Thanksgiving is much more 19th-century myth than reality.) // 137 Warren Ave., Plymouth, 508-746-1622, plimoth.org.
 
Reason to Get on a Ferry
BOSTON HARBOR ISLANDS
Talk about hiding in plain sight — right in the middle of one of the busiest harbors in the country is an oasis of natural beauty, history, and outdoor activities that couldn’t be easier to find. Ferries depart from Boston’s Long Wharf several times a day to tour a dozen of the 34 islands that make up this historical park. There’s Georges Island, complete with ranger-guided tours of a haunted Civil War–era fort; Spectacle Island — rebuilt from landfill dug out of Boston’s Big Dig — with beaches, boating docks, and hiking trails; Little Brewster Island, home to the oldest lighthouse in America; and much more to explore. // Boston, 617-223-8666, bostonislands.com.
 

 

Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2011/05/best-of-new-england-massachusetts/