Once a regional center of industry, North Adams, a small city in the hills of Berkshire County, has been transformed into an idyllic tourist destination. At its rejuvenated heart is the vast Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), located in a 13-acre former mill complex. Numerous other galleries have sprung up alongside MASS MoCA, and there are more in neighbouring Williamstown, as well as an annual art festival in downtown North Adams.
Alongside all this artifice, North Adams is encircled by a wild and rugged natural world. It lies at an intersection of several scenic trails, as the Vermont Long Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and the Mohawk Trail all pass within two miles of the town. North Adams’s seclusion, art scene and nature make a trip there a marvellous escape from the stresses of modern life; who ever could have predicted that amid the smoke and machinery of a century ago?
A third of North Adams’s formerly thriving business district has been converted into a vast contemporary art museum, which unfolds through numerous nineteenth century factory buildings connected by courtyards and passageways. It is a wonderfully apt location for the largest contemporary art center in the US, as industrial innovation has been transmuted into a showcase and laboratory for cutting-edge artistic experimentation. This is exhibited across 19 galleries as well as in a theatre, performance courtyards, and workshops.
Two great old walking routes overlap and run together past North Adams: the Vermont Long Trail, and the legendary Appalachian Trail. Local enthusiasts claim that the Long Trail is the oldest long distance trail in the United States, and that it provided the inspiration for the Appalachian Trail itself. Whatever the truth of such claims, it is a spectacular route, wandering through wild backcountry toward the Canadian border. North Adams lies just over a mile from the trail, which can be easily reached by a signposted footpath, making the town a great starting or stop-off point.
This verdant park is filled with the sounds of running water and the smells of dense vegetation. But it is the senses of touch and sight that make it unique. A beautiful white marble bridge spans a craggy chasm, and the stream below runs into a deep pool created by the only white marble dam in North America. This marble is naturally formed, and its erosion by the forces of wind, water and mining has created a dramatic landscape of outcrops and caves.
Gramercy, which recently re-located into the MASS MoCA, is easily North Adams’s most famous restaurant. The eclectic cuisine is created from local produce and free-range meat, and the menu changes with the seasons, incorporating whatever is available into delicious and original dishes. The decor is elegant, the ambience relaxed, and the prices are relatively affordable, too.
Just over the road from the MASS MoCA, The Porches is a trendy reflection of the artistic spirit that has replaced manufacturing as the engine of the town’s economy. The hotel’s rooms are located in a row of pretty Victorian houses, renovated from their previously dilapidated state. Accommodation is spacious and stylish if not particularly cheap, and the owners are tuned into the town’s active art scene.