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Saturday, August 9, 2014

12 Reasons to Love Central Massachusetts

Brookfield Orchards, North Brookfield, Mass. (photo by Eric)

Central Massachusetts represents the heart and soul of New England quite well with its quaint small towns, winding country roads, hills and valleys, and a pace of life that is generally much slower than Boston. The region also features Worcester, an impressive city that keeps getting better each day through its major revitalization projects and a strong cultural and academic base with nine colleges and many cultural institutions.

I've found Central Massachusetts to be a home away from home with an appealing quality of life as well as attractions and events that provide a nice respite from our suburban Boston residence. For starters, here are 12 great Central Massachusetts travel destinations:

Ecotarium, Worcester The Ecotarium, an indoor/outdoor science and discovery center, has a bucolic, campus-like presence that feels a million miles away from the urban bustle of Worcester, New England's second largest city. The museum is modern, clean and features such educational gems like a planetarium, animal educational classes and displays (including bald eagles!), geology presentations, and memory and perception exhibits. There's also an express train, taking you through a wild habitat with red fox, red-tailed hawks, and if you're lucky a glimpse of Kendra the polar bear. The Ecotarium also features The Tree Canopy Walkway where you can experience what it's like to walk at the tops of the trees! More on the Ecotarium...

Brookfield Orchards, North Brookfield More than just one of New England's best apple orchards, Brookfield Orchards has a wonderful country store, as well as serving up some amazing apple dumplings with vanilla ice cream and cheddar cheese. The best part of visiting Brookfield Orchards, to us, is enjoying the scenic countryside, rolling hills in the distance and some of the sweetest smelling air you'll find in these neck of the woods. More on Brookfield Orchards...

Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge As mentioned in the previous post, Old Sturbridge Village (OSV) is a true-to-life outdoor living museum that wonderfully depicts rural New England from the 1790s to the 1830s. The appealing village layout includes 59 historic buildings on 200 acres, three water-powered mills and two covered bridges.  The knowledgeable New England historians in costume really know their subject matter, so don't be afraid to ask any questions! At Sturbridge Village, you can also ride in a stagecoach, view antiques, heirloom gardens, meet the farm animals, and take part in hands-on crafts.  Visitors have been coming to Old Sturbridge Village since 1946. I have fond memories of OSV as a kid going on school field trips, but I can tell you that Sturbridge Village is even better today with so many more attractions. More on Old Sturbridge Village...

Brimfield Flea Market, Brimfield This is the biggest flea market in New England, held annually in May, July and September. You'll find more than 5,000 vendors from all over the country come to this tiny, quintessential New England town! More on the Brimfield Flea Market...

Salem Cross Inn, West Brookfield If you're looking for a restaurant that captures the spirit of traditional New England, the Salem Cross Inn will surely satisfy. With part of the building dating back to the 1700s, this charming restaurant with beautiful hardwood floors, post and beam ceilings, a huge fieldstone fireplace and scenic countryside over 600 acres, the Salem Cross Inn also happens to serve some wonderful Yankee fare. We recommend the New England chowder of the sea, chicken pie, Yankee pot roast, and baked New England haddock. The Salem Cross Inn also hosts several special events a year that re-enact colonial history and cooking. More on the Salem Cross Inn...

Quabbin Reservoir, Belchertown The largest man-made reservoir in the United States is also a naturalist's dream with designated access areas for fishing (restrictions apply), hiking, limited bicycling, walking trails, bird watching (we've heard many reports of eagle sightings here), snowshoeing, picnicking and generally, endless scenic views. We recommend visiting the Quabbin Reservoir at 485 Ware Rd. (Route 9) in Belchertown, or calling (413) 323-7221. More on the Quabbin Reservoir....

Southwick's Zoo, Mendon Along with the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, Southwick's Zoo is, in our opinion, the go-to zoo in New England. Having grown tremendously over the past couple of decades, Southwick's Zoo features a large display of well-known and lesser-known animals, the Safari Skyride where you can view animals from above, a walk-through aviary, a petting zoo, live animal presentations and educational classes and the really impressive Purple Peacock Gift Shop! The zoo is exceptionally well-kept. More on Southwick's Zoo...

Howard's Drive-In, West Brookfield A classic summer destination, Howard's is the place for heaping portions of ice cream at dirt cheap prices, as well as offering great BBQ chicken, lobster rolls, ribs and fried clam plates. Such a nice place -- you order at the window, find a picnic table at the picnic groves and enjoy the feeling of letting someone else create a backyard family-like gathering for your dining pleasure.  More on Howard's...

Davis Farmland and MegaMaze, Sterling This family-run working farm showcases the largest sanctuary of endangered livestock animals in the United States. It's a pleasing, wholesome family-friendly destination that also happens to be a lot of fun. Some highlights includes meeting the farm animals, figuring out the enormous corn maze, taking a pony or "safari" ride, a zero depth "spray  ground" to cool off on hot days, and Adventureland where you can dig for dinosaur bones, or drive on the pedal car track. There's plenty more to see and do here, and it's easy to spend a whole day at the farm! Here's more on Davis Farm Land... 

Worcester Art Museum, Worcester There is life beyond the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, when it comes to art museums in New England. The Worcester Art Museum is one great example, featuring more than 35,000 works of art including  European and North American painting, prints, photographs and drawings as well as Asian art, Greek and Roman sculpture and mosaics and contemporary art. I remember going here are as kid in the 1960s, and can tell you that the multiple expansions since then have made it truly one of the premier art museums I've been to in the six-state region. The Museum also is part of an underrated arts, culture and education scene in Worcester. Think about it: the city has nine colleges and universities, six museums, and more than 20 music, theater and dance organizations, including the Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra. But I digress and recommend starting with the Worcester Art Museum! More on the Worcester Art Museum..

Dean Park, Shrewsbury What an absolutely beautiful park! Graced with a scenic pond, pleasant walking trails, and lots of tree shaded areas, idyllic Dean Park features a terrific playground, sports fields, basketball and tennis courts, a bandstand and picnic pavilions. A well maintained and attended spot, Dean Park is the prototype for what a park should look like. More on Dean Park...

The Book Bear, West Brookfield For lovers of independent bookstores, the Book Bear is a great read. With more than 90,000 used, rare and out of print books, this pleasant store with wonderful old-fashioned customer service and a warehouse look is one of the best bookstores we've been to in New England. More on The Book Bear...
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