Home to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and to Amherst and Hampshire colleges, this Connecticut River Valley town is the geographic hub of the Five College Area. With several museums, and plenty of places to eat, shop, and sleep, Amherst is also a great place to spend a day or two. This month take the time to visit an orchard or bike or hike into the hills.
DoSeveral Amherst museums are not well known, either because they are relatively new or newly visitor-friendly. The Emily Dickinson Museum (280 Main St., 413-542-8161, emilydickinsonmuseum.org, Wednesday-Sunday 12:30-5:30 p.m. Hours vary throughout the year. Fees vary by tour) is a case in point. The poet's brick homestead has been technically open to the public since 1965, but only since 2003 has it been part of a full-fledged two-house, three-acre museum. For true devotees, an 18-hour marathon reading of all 1,789 of her poems begins at 6 a.m. Sept. 29.
Reopened last year, The Amherst College Museum of Natural History (on campus, 413-542-2165, amherst.edu/museumofnaturalhistory, Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m.-4 p.m., free) displays the skeletons of huge Ice Age mammoths, the world's largest collection of dinosaur tracks, and dioramas explaining how they came to exist in the bedrock of this valley.
The nearby Mead Art Museum (Amherst College, 413-542-2335, amherst.edu/mead, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., till 9 on Thursdays) just reopened after big renovations. A well-rounded permanent collection includes paintings by Thomas Eakins and Marsden Hartley as well as contemporary art and photography.
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (125 West Bay Road, 413-658-1100, picturebookart.org, Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday 10-5, Sunday noon-5; adults $7, ages 18 and under, seniors, and students $5, family of four $20) has proven very popular since its 2003 opening. In addition to work by the legendary creator of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," it currently features the stunning art of Allen Say.
FuelChef-owner Paul Hathaway offers a classically French menu at Chez Albert (27 South Pleasant St., 413-253-3811, chezalbert.net; lunch Wednesday-Friday, dinner Tuesday-Saturday, Sunday brunch; lunch $9-$13, dinner entrees $20-$25; reservations advised) with an infusion of local organic ingredients.
Sample the tapas menu at Tabella Restaurant (28 Amity St., 413-253-0220, tabellarestaurant.com, dinner until at least 10, $10 minimum per person, small plates $6-$13.50) with 85 percent of ingredients locally produced.
Judie's (51 North Pleasant St., 413-253-3491, www.judiesrestaurant.com, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., till 11 on weekends, closed Monday, dinner entrees $17.25-$19.25) is newly expanded but still casual with a large menu, specializing in popovers and a full bar.
A mural in the longtime local favorite Amherst Chinese Food (62 Main St., 413-253-7835, lunch and dinner daily, entrees $8.95-$14.95) depicts the restaurant's nearby farm, the source of its varied veggies and of the Schizandra berries, which make up its tasty and highly medicinal Sandra juice.
Ask anyone. Antonio's (31 North Pleasant St., 413-253-0808) is the best pizza around.
At The Black Sheep, a deli and bakery and gathering place since 1986 (79 Main St., 413-253-3442, blacksheepdeli.com, Monday-Saturday 6:45 a.m.-at least 9 p.m., from 7:30 on Sunday), enjoy made-from-scratch soups and breads and croissants, overstuffed sandwiches, brewed coffees and teas.
PlayBike the paved Norwottuck Rail Trail (Station Road, off Route 116, south Amherst, hadleyonline.com/railtrail/) 10 miles through fields and across the Connecticut River to Northampton.
The Amherst Conservation Department (413-256-4045) maintains more than 80 miles of foot trails, 14 named for local writers. The best view for the least effort is from Mount Pollux, with parking marked by a small sign on South East Street in South Amherst (on the left, heading south).
At Mount Holyoke Range State Park (Route 116, 413-253-2883, Notch Visitors Center open daily 9 a.m.-4 p.m.) hike the ridges of the dramatic hills that run across the valley east to west.
In nearby J.A. Skinner State Park (Route 47, Hadley) a road winds up to the Summit House atop Mount Holyoke, with a view of the Connecticut River Oxbow.
SpendFiber Art Center (79 South Pleasant St., 413-256-1818, fiberartcenter.com), a standout gallery with a shop featuring local artists creating in silks, felt, and wool rope, also offers a wide variety of fabric and pottery and jewelry.
Food For Thought Books (106 North Pleasant St., 413-253-5432, www.foodforthoughtbooks.com), a nonprofit worker's collective, specializes in counterculture titles.
Atkins Farms Country Market (1150 West St., Route 116 south, 413-253-9528, atkinsfarms.com), family owned since 1885, is a showcase for local produce in general and for Atkins Orchards in particular, especially this month with more than 25 varieties of homegrown apples.
RestLord Jeffery Inn (30 Boltwood Ave., 413-253-2576, 800-742-0358, lordjefferyinn.com, $79-$239), a tweedily comfortable, college-owned inn geared to weekend weddings, comprises two restaurants, 48 comfortable rooms, and eight suites.
Convenient to downtown, the Wilbur Homestead (126 Northampton Road, Route 9, 413-253-2281, wilburhomestead.com, $95-$160 with breakfast) is a big, exquisitely crafted 1880 house with three upstairs rooms with private baths, including a two-room suite.
Kellogg Homestead (459 South Pleasant St., 413-253-4988, hkhbb.com, $85 with a full breakfast), on the southern edge of town but still an easy walk, is an 1828 house with two attractive but very different guest rooms with a shared bath.
Stone House Farm Bed & Breakfast (649 East Pleasant St., 413-549-4455, stonehousefarmbb .com, $175-250 with breakfast) on the northern edge of town, just beyond the UMass campus, is a great spot for families with spacious one- and two-bedroom suites. Resident animals include chickens, ducks, and goats.
Ivory Creek Bed & Breakfast (31 Chmura Road, Hadley, 413-587-3115, 866-331-3115, ivorycreek.com, $135-225 with breakfast), a gracious 24-acre retreat, minutes from downtown but tucked up under the Holyoke Range, offers Wi-Fi and many rooms with gas fireplaces.
PartyAfter 10 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, tables at Bistro 63 at the Monkey Bar (63 North Pleasant St., 413-259-1600, monkeybaramherst.com, daily for lunch and dinner) are pushed back and this dimly lighted venue with its long sleek bar becomes a nightclub with a DJ and music.
Frequently crowded, The Moan and Dove (460 West St., 413-256-1710, themoananddove.com, weekdays 3 p.m.-1 a.m., weekends 1-1) is a serious pub with 20 beers on tap, several casks, and 125 brands.
Amherst Brewing Co. (24-36 North Pleasant St., 413-253-4400, amherstbrewing.com), a boutique brewery, pub, and restaurant, has a dozen house brews on tap and the Amherst Jazz Orchestra playing on first and third Mondays. Upstairs features a game room and bar.
Amherst Coffee (28 Amity St., 413-256-8987), a popular cafe by day, has a full bar after 5 p.m. daily, jazz on Thursdays from 8 p.m., and reputedly the best martinis in town.