Travel notes: Orchards Hotel, Williamstown, MA
By Mary Beth Galarneau
About 10 years ago, my venture up Mount Greylock in Williamstown afforded me a view of the town, but denied me an indulgence in its quainter details. When I got the chance to make a second visit, I vowed not to make the same mistake again.
As I discovered then, sometimes the best getaway is right in your own backyard. Just a 50-minute jaunt from the Capital Region, Williamstown is not only a traditional summer haven for tourists, but it is also a cultural mecca that can be enjoyed all year long. My husband and I recently confirmed that first hand, celebrating our trip as our “cultural weekend”, and rightly so: in just one day, we toured three museums offering everything from French Impressionist paintings to the latest in modern art.While it is true that Williams College is the big draw of this small town, Williamstown is not your typical college town. Home to a world-class museum in The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, as well as the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown is also within four miles of Mass MoCA in nearby North Adams. Given their proximity to one another, my husband and I decided to hopscotch to each museum during a mid–winter’s day.
We started at The Clark on a snowy Saturday morning. Moving at our own pace, we took our time in each gallery, carefully studying the extraordinary works of art. Renowned for its French Impressionist paintings by Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, there is also a collection of American paintings by Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Frederic Remington and Mary Cassatt.
We missed the Remington Looking West exhibit, which opened the week after we visited. It runs through May 4 and brings together works from public and private collections, including those Remington created to establish his reputation as a serious artist, his sculpture and his later nocturnes.
While admiring these wondrous works of art, you feel as if you’re in the middle of a busy cosmopolitan city. It’s only when you steal a glance at the surrounding acres of woodlands that you realize you have stumbled upon a jewel in the countryside.
Following our lengthy stay at the museum, which included the obligatory purchase at the gift shop, we proceeded to Mass MoCA, just a short drive down Rt. 2 in nearby North Adams. The change in scenery could not have been more dramatic. Where the Clark was serene and frequented by a more hushed crowd, Mass MoCA was the complete opposite. Perhaps it was because it was “free admission” day, or maybe it was because of the interesting art featured on the museum walls, but the scene here was one of chaotic ebullience. There were school kids scurrying about, as if energized by the curious works of art. I was completely amazed by the abstract works, including one gallery that was framed by 100 images of pink dots purporting to approximate the exact shade of pink of Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hat. Another exhibit was a series of white box fans piled on top of each other, which goes to show you how art can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary simply by skewing the viewer’s perspective.
Leaving Mass MoCA in a serious snow squall, we returned to Williamstown where we toured the college’s impressive museum before retreating to the Orchards Hotel in the center of town for some much-needed relaxation.
Knowing tea time was offered in the living room in the late afternoon, I suggested we enjoy a warm drink and snack before dinner. Other guests had the same idea, so even though we couldn’t snag the coveted seat in front of the fireplace, we still enjoyed being off our feet and watching the snow.
The hotel, built in 1985, is situated on property that was originally part of a 240-acre farm founded in 1765 by Nehemiah Semdley, one of Williamstown’s earliest settlers. Here, he planted the first orchard at what was called Homestead Farm.
When the hotel was built, ornamental apple trees were kept in the courtyard garden as a reminder of its past. The ever-present basket of apples in the living room serves the same purpose.
Having once owned a bed and breakfast in the Poconos, General Manager Scott Frankel brings a B&B philosophy to the operation of the 49-room hotel.
“We’re here for the guest,” said Frankel, explaining that everyone from the concierge to the dishwasher is considered an innkeeper in the hotel, that way “guests never have to look for who’s in charge.”
Frankel practices what he preaches. Numerous times during our weekend stay I noticed him chatting with guests in the living room, greeting guests and offering to help with bags. He even helped seat people for dinner.
Something fun to do while walking the halls is to check out the room names. In keeping with the town’s namesake, all of the rooms are named after famous Williamses. Our room, for instance, was the Andy Williams room. If it’s a suite you want, then book the Tennessee Williams room, which features a king bed, Jacuzzi tub, fireplace, separate marble shower with five shower heads, and a fabulous view.
Our comfortable room was handsomely decorated with a mix of dark wood and floral and striped patterns on the wall and bed. Arriving guests are treated to a plate of cookies that serves to recall the comfort of home without detracting from the elegance of the hotel.
While traveling, I love checking out the onsite restaurant. It’s a luxury to be able to saunter to the dining room without having to worry about braving the elements. Settling in for a delicious meal was truly a great ending to our day.
Similar to the décor in our room, the dining room was elegant, but intimate. Our table was near the courtyard, which was illuminated by white lights spangled across the trees. It’s easy to imagine how lively it must look when it’s in full bloom during the warmer months.
My husband enjoyed the filet mignon, while I savored the mushroom risotto. Like the arts surrounding the area, the meal was truly a work of art, with a taste to satisfy any palette.
Relaxing by a fire after dinner in our room, I concluded that a visit to the Orchards is a wonderful accompaniment to a weekend of the arts. It’s not just a great place to unwind after a stimulating day of museum tours, but a place where you can throw up your feet at day’s end and be sure that they never have to touch the ground again. At least, that is, until Monday. But that’s what long weekends are for, right?
The Orchards Hotel is located at 222 Adams Road, Williamstown, MA. For more information call 413.458.9611 or visit www.orchardshotel.com. Rates range between $99-$259 during off season and $229-$389 during peak season.