Driving back from New York state after Thanksgiving, going nowhere fast on 84, Ben and I called an audible. If we were going to spend hours and hours in the car, let’s spend in on a scenic byway. We headed north on Route 7, a road that somehow, in all my years in New England, I’d never managed to drive.
Route 7 cuts north through the Litchfield Hills, running along the Appalachian Trail and the pretty Housatonic River. (Ben says this is a good trout fishing river. Lots of, you know, bug life, or something.) The route also offers plenty of places to get out and poke around — the Cornwall covered bridge, Bulls Bridge, Stonewall Dairy Farm (for raw milk and fresh eggs), Kent Falls State Park, the Millstone Cafe in Kent, and a number of state forests. If, like me, your experience of Connecticut has largely been confined to quaint shoreline, inland traffic jams, and moldering cities, the Litchfield Hills were an eye-opener. (Apparently they’re quite popular already with New Yorkers. Who knew?)
Once we crossed into Mass, we were back in slightly more familiar territory (for me, anyway). From Sheffield to Great Barrington to Stockbridge, Route 7 is jammed with antique shops. My personal favorites tend to be either glorified junk shops, where everything’s affordable and you’ll never know what you’ll find, old prints and maps (perfect for the girl who has lots of white walls but nowhere left to put anything three-dimensional!), and over-the-top shops where you want everything but can’t afford a fraction of anything. For the latter, I recommend Le Trianon in Sheffield, where massive dining tables rub elbows with minor Impressionists, crib-sized copper pots lurk in dark corners, and the labels say things like, “Owned by the former CEO of Texaco” and “price available upon request.” (For finding more antiques near wherever you are, check out our friend Sean’s website: antiquesnearme.com.)
If you need a pick-me-up during this phase of the drive, some will tell you to stop at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. We disagree. Stuffy, dusty, and overpriced, this is a landmark that’s easily skipped. Instead, stop into Marketplace Kitchen in Sheffield for sandwiches and soups (Tomato Pepper Jack, Butternut Cider, and Cheddar Ale were all on the menu when we were there) or Barrington Brewery, where they brew beer with solar power. My favorite: the Yule Fuel, an 8.5% barley wine.
Just north of the Pike sits Lee, slightly to the east of Route 7. We drove right through town, admiring the classic New England white clapboard church, tragically ignorant of one of Western Mass’s best beer bars, Moe’s Tavern. (Yes, that’s really what it’s called.) Rated “awesome” by BeerAdvocate, it features American beers like Dogfish Head, Troegs, and Clown Shoes. For now, it’s the one that got away. But we’ll be back!
Back on Route 7, the next town northward is Lenox. We’re now getting into serious literary territory — Edith Wharton, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne all have roots in the area. We didn’t get this far on our post-Thanksgiving sojourn, but Ben brought me out to Lenox for my birthday a couple of weeks later, and it’s well worth the extra mileage before you hop back on the Pike. Stop in for a drink at Alta, a small but well-curated bar, or Gateways, which offers a fine array of single malts. But as far as we’re concerned, there’s only one place to eat: Nudel. It’s deserving of a post all its own, but for now I’ll just quote this line from a Yelp review: “This place is the equivalent of some kung fu master retiring to the temple in the forest, to master his technique in peaceful isolation.” The ninja in question is chef Bjorn. We suggest grabbing seats at the counter so you can watch him at work.
There’s a lot more to see on 7 — especially if you take it all the way up to Williamstown, where the Clark Art Institute and Mass MOCA offer a collection of art that rivals anything you’d find in Boston — but we’ll have to save it for the summer. Gardens, Tanglewood, hiking… hopefully another meal at Nudel… all these await warmer days. But with so much to do even in the dead of winter, Route 7 makes a great detour to enliven anyone’s holiday driving.