Massachusetts in Winter
Published: January 2010
GARETH DAVIS explores the Bay State at an unlikely time of year...
For a state that parades its colours like a gaudy old madam in fall, Massachusetts’ winter wardrobe comes as a bit of a shock, even to someone who’s used to bleak old Britain. Gone are the purples, crimsons and golds, and instead, in true Puritan spirit, the landscape dons sackcloth. Amongst the evergreens the floor is strewn with autumn’s detritus, a dun brown blanket that provides no clue of the glories to come later in the year. It’s in winter you really grasp the harsh nature of this land; difficult to farm, grudging to sustain life, a place of boulders, ancient woodland and choked creeks. No wonder those early settlers had such a hard time of it and so many eventually migrated to the more fertile expanses of the US to the west.
Still, winter has its pluses for us visitors. There are no hordes to combat, accommodation is readily available and it’s hard to resist the likes of Plymouth and Boston under their winter suns. I stood on the Charles Bridge watching the rowers on the river on a Saturday afternoon in March, as the office towers of the downtown glimmered like bronze in the far distance, my breath curling from under my scarf, and the cold nipping at my nostrils.
I’d visited Boston previously in summer and fall. Now winter just reaffirmed the inherent appeal of America’s Walking City, no matter what the season. For warmth I was lucky enough to be shacked up at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, situated on one of Boston’s most important squares. The plaza is where John Kerry held his election rally in 2004 and conceded defeat to George W Bush. There’s no denying the grandeur of the hotel itself. This is THE original Fairmont, all gilt and creamy cornicing. The famous Oak Room is as clubby as you could wish, soaring ceilings, dark wood panelling, overseen by a stag’s head mounted high on the wall. It’s the kind of place you want to be when the ship goes down.
Boston is the easiest of American cities to explore. The “walking” moniker is no exaggeration. You can get from A to B on two legs. In fact, it feels so European that at times it seems as if America starts somewhere over there. Not that I’d necessarily recommend a walking tour. 15 years of travel has taught me that the world is full of mad guides. I now know Boston too has its share. Take it from me, an organised walking tour can either be a joy or money poured away. The city’s Duck Tour is equally mad though in a different way. Adults regress into giggling children when they mount the amphibious armoured vehicle that takes them off dry land, into the waters of the Charles River where everyone gets to have a go at driving. It’s what our Yankee friends would describe as “cute” and there’s no denying everyone has a lot of fun with plenty of photo ops.
Getting around Boston has also become a much more pleasant experience since the completion of the so-called Big Dig in 2006. This mammoth transportation project cost around 20 billion dollars and for 30 years turned the downtown area into an eyesore. It’s been a huge success. The city’s entire ghastly mid-century elevated expressway has been shoved underground and in its place is a sward of attractive urban green space.
Complementing this is the revitalisation of the waterfront where one of the highlights is the new home of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. OK it’s not mind blowing like a Calatrava, but this concrete, glass and metal box has fantastic views across the water and Boston Harbour. 30% consists of a permanent collection, the remainder given over to seasonal exhibitions. It’s a functional space which allows the art to breathe. Just what’s needed for the works of street artist Shepard Fairey, the East Coast’s wild child who’s as famous for his brushes with the law as his work with brushes.
Shopping is a big draw but take my advice and head 40 minutes south west of Boston to a mall that will turn the least retail oriented person into a shopping fiend. Wrentham Outlets spills with big names; Barneys, Saks, Calvin Klein. This place is so popular tour operators organise coach trips for punters from the city. I picked up a $900 Samsonite suitcase for $240. Wrentham is one of the best outlets I’ve come across in a long time.
Once you’ve stepped out of the city, winter may be in full swing but there’s plenty to entertain, plus a few New England clichés to enjoy. 60 miles west of Boston is KE Farm, boasting the region’s finest maple syrup. March isn’t the season for syrup production which requires cold nights and warmer days but owners Ernie and Karen Arcoite are bursting with syrupy facts; did you know it takes 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup? There’s also a movie explaining syrup production and a shop bursting with sticky goodies. Just up the road Old Sturbridge Village is a fantastic conurbation of early nineteenth century buildings brought from all over the northeast. Our guide provided an insight into early commercialisation as we explored an old store and quite a few giggles for those of us who remember The Two Ronnies. He bore an uncanny resemblance to the Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town.
25 miles south of Boston in the town of Brockton, Fuller’s Craft Museum isn’t at all what it sounds. Banish any twee images of quilts and crochet you may have and instead imagine a stunning showcase of historic and contemporary glass, ceramics, sculpture, and weaving. It’s a hugely tactile experience and a half day well spent eyeing up objects you would love to have in your home.
Where Massachusetts stretches out its foot into the cold Atlantic, one and a half million visitors come to enjoy the summer. Cape Cod may seem the last place to head in winter, its low lying landmass blown by ocean winds. But there’s something a little romantic about a beach under huge grey skies. In the town of Sandwich where the cape meets the mainland The Belfry Inne & Bistro is a destination in its own right. This gorgeous 19th century brick church has been converted into a lovely bed and breakfast. The bistro serves up some of the best gourmet food in the region. Try the 10 course tasting menu with wines, which is a snip at $115.
Then slide your way up the coast with a stop at Plymouth en route. Here you can see a replica of the Mayflower, the ship which carried the Pilgrims, the first settlers, over from England, and sample a truly mind bending experience at Plimoth Plantation where the original settlement has been recreated and trapped in time. The year is 1627 and the village is stocked with role players who have taken on the names and lives of actual settlers from the period. Yes, as far as they’re concerned Charles I is on the throne and it’s a long hike back to the UK.
By the time you’re back in Boston, the season won’t matter a jot. In fact, it will strike you, as it did me that the varying colours of Massachusetts are worth enjoying all year round.
Massachusetts in Winter
Gareth has been with TRAVEL CHANNEL since its launch in 1994. He has produced and presented on TRAVEL LIVE and THE TRAVEL BUG, produced ESSENTIAL... and reports on TRAVEL TODAY. He is a regular contributor to the website. In 2010 he produced the hit series THE HOLIDAY SHOW which he also co-presented with Ginny Buckley. Gareth’s passions are history, culture, food & drink.
Gareth travelled to Massachusetts with
Virgin Atlantic Airways and stayed at Cape Codder Resort and Spa and Fairmont Copley Plaza.
To find out more about Virgin Atlantic Airways
To find out more about Cape Codder Resort and Spa
To find out more about Fairmont Copley Plaza
To find out more about Massachusetts