Quirky local attractions lure Ephs out of the purple bubble

Establishments such as Public Eat + Drink are within a 15-minute drive for students seeking off-campus adventures. --Photo courtesy of Public Eat+Drink
Establishments such as Public Eat + Drink are within a 15-minute drive for students seeking off-campus adventures. –Photo courtesy of Public Eat+Drink

It can be easy to feel a little isolated in Williamstown. Your high school friends upload college pictures of themselves gallivanting around New York City, tanning on beaches where it doesn’t start snowing in early November and casually running into celebrities in Los Angeles clubs. Meanwhile, your night out consists of PB&J fries and Mario Kart. Our world doesn’t have to be limited to Spring Street and snack bar though – there’s plenty to see and do (and of course, eat) here in the Berkshires that is just a short drive away. Find that person you’re only friends with because they have a car and go check out these fun, strange and delicious spots just 20 minutes from campus.

The most adventurous traveler may want to make a trip to the Berk- shire Vista Nudist Resort, a hidden gem over in Hancock, Mass. While it’s been closed for the winter season since October for obvious reasons, the resort will reopen on May 1. So if you’re looking to really impress those friends back home, it’s the perfect place for a pre-summer break outing. (You won’t be able to brag over Facebook, though, because cameras are strictly – and understandably – prohibited.) Self-described as a “family-oriented, clothing-optional resort,” the Berkshire Vista Nudist Resort is charmingly nes- tled between the mountains and offers day-long visits for just $25 on weekdays and $35 on weekends. It boasts attractions such as camping, swimming, hot tubs, saunas, hiking, tennis, live entertainment and much more. If you really enjoy your experience with “social nudity,” seasonal club member- ships are available for $700.

The Hancock Shaker Village is also open April through October, although the similarities between it and the nudist resort stop there. The Village was home to the Massachusetts Shakers from the late 1780s to 1960 and is now a National Historic Landmark and living museum designed to preserve and share the history of the Shakers, members of a religious sect. Admission is $18 for adults, and visitors can explore the village, make traditional Shaker crafts and learn about Shaker customs, as well as their livestock farms and herb and vegetable gardens. Most appealing to the College student will likely be “Baby Animals on the Shaker Farm,” a special exhibit that kicks off the village’s season from April 12 to May 4. It holds daily meet-and-greets with all the new piglets, lambs, calves, chicks and ducklings – the perfect finals week stress-buster.

Of course, the Berkshires is home to as much, if not more, natural beauty as it is to man-made attractions. Natural Bridges State Park, just off Route 8 in North Adams, is North America’s only white marble arch that is open for hiking, fishing and picnicking. A product of glaciation, the bridge is approximately 13,000 years old and made from bedrock marble that is 550 million years old. Also in the park is Hudson’s Cave, the result of a white marble quarry. Author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who visited the park in 1838, wrote, “The cave makes a fresh impression on me every time I visit it … so deep, so ir- regular, so gloomy, so stern” – and anything that comes recommended by Nathaniel Hawthorne is surely worth a visit.

A spookier Berkshires destination is the Hoosac Tunnel in North Adams and Florida, Mass., an old railroad tunnel and Historic Civil Engineering Landmark built in the mid-1800s. Its construction was tumultuous, both in terms of politics and in terms of technical difficulties, and the tunnel was responsible for the death of over 195 workers during its construction. Because of this tragedy, the Hoosac Tunnel is now rumored to be haunted – visitors since the late 1800s have claimed to hear shrieks and see ghost- ly figures. Trains do occasionally run through the tunnel, so exploration is not entirely encouraged, but it none- theless contributes to the diversity (and the scare factor) of our area.

The Berkshires also offers delicious alternatives to Mission and Whitmans’ (and even Tunnel City and Sushi Thai). Bennington and North Adams are home to a wide variety of cafes and restaurants, from Bennington’s South Street Cafe, a homey coffee shop and bakery, to North Adams’ Public Eat+Drink, a bustling lunch and dinner spot serving creative American cuisine. Quirkier options in Bennington include the 1950s-style railcar diner The Blue Benn, complete with a jukebox, and breakfast joint Papa Pete’s, which serves pancakes so big that they are commonly eaten in pizza-like slices, a competitor for Mission brunch if there ever was one.

Williamstown is only a small portion of the wonder and the weirdness that is the Purple Valley. Get off campus and go exploring – you’ll never be jealous of your high school friends again.