Massachusetts

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BOSTON FOR FAMILIES

Steeped in history and full of interactive museums, sprawling parks and fabled sports venues, this compact New England city has plenty to keep kids of all ages – and adults – entertained

PARK LIFE

America’s oldest public park, Boston Common is the perfect place for kids to let off steam with bail fields, the Tadpole Playground, a vintage carousel and the Frog Pond, which features a spray pool for little ones to cool off in in summer and transforms into an ice-skating rink in winter.

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Boston Common Park – Massachusetts, U.S.A

A quick stroll away, Boston’s Public Garden, the first public botanical garden in the country, will delight children with hundreds of squirrels to chase, traditional Swan Boats to ride around the lagoon and a row of bronze duck statues to pose alongside, inspired by Mrs Mallard and her ducklings in Robert McCloskey’s much-loved children’s book Make Way For Ducklings (available in bookstores across the city for bedtime stories). Parents can admire the beautiful flora and Victorian-era statues and the browns tone mansions of tony Beacon Hill across the street.
Running for almost 5km along the river from the Museum of Science to the Boston University Bridge, the Charles River Esplanade parkland encompasses three playgrounds with swings, slides, zip lines, tunnels and monkey bars aplenty and a separate section for toddlers. For teens there are also biking trails, boat rentals and plenty of scenic open spaces for ball games.

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Charles River Esplanade – Boston, Massachusetts

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Tanglewood Music Festival – Lenox, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

A Cultural Haven in the Lovely Berkshires

The tranquil summertime home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the past sixty-plus years, 210-acre Tanglewood estate and its hilly Berkshires environs represent a cultural smorgasbord for arts lovers, offering a summer-long series that began small in 1934 and has grown into the country’s most famous and prestigious summer music festival. Weekday evenings see performances by internationally acclaimed artists, but the real Tanglewood experience is at the popular weekend concerts, when the lush Great Lawn fills with music lovers and their elaborate picnic dinners, settling in for a lovely evening under the stars. The season culminates on Labor Day with the annual Tanglewood Jazz Fest.

High culture keeps these gentle hills alive. The Mount, Pulitzer-prize-winning nov­elist Edith Wharton’s summer home in Lenox, is the site of lectures and other events. The popular Shakespeare & Co. performances, held here since 2001, now have a new home at 70 Kemble Street. Visitors can stay at the nearby Gables Inn, which was Wharton’s home before she built The Mount. Dance enthusiasts gravitate to Jacob’s Pillow, the country’s oldest modern dance festival. Begun in 1933 on a 150-acre park on Route 20 in rural Becket (15 miles from Tanglewood), it may feature classic ballet one night and hip-hop, modern jazz, or Spanish flamenco the next.

Match high culture with high hospitality by checking into the elegant Blantyre country-house hotel, an 100-acre spread with one of the last “summer cottage” castles remaining from the area’s late-19th-century gilded era. The pampering once reserved for the owner of the Tudor estate is now regaled upon each privileged guest, right down to the perfect gourmet picnic hamper for that concert at Tanglewood.

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Thanksgiving at Plimoth Plantation – Plymouth, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Time Travel on the Quintessential American Holiday

Thanksgiving evokes images of Norman Rockwell family reunions, tables groaning under feasts of turkey and the trimmings, and historic associations of the Pilgrims and the Indians.

Although a number of cities claim to have hosted the original Thanksgiving, Americans will always associate the first permanent settlement of Plymouth as the site of the documented 1621 dinner the Pilgrims celebrated with ninety male representatives of their Wamponoag neighbors, a year after the settlers had fled religious persecution in England. Today at Plimoth Plantation you can find out what really happened when you visit the Pilgrims at the 1621 Village and the Wamponoag people at Hobbamock’s Homesite.

The museum holds several dinners centered around the Thanksgiving holiday. In October and November, visitors can participate in din­ners hosted by costumed interpreters portray­ing 17th-century English colonists.

At the period dinner, visitors sit down to a “groaning board” filled with surprisingly tasty fare including seethed mussels, sauced turkey, roasted chine of pork, fricassee of fish, stewed pompion (a sweet pudding of Indian corn), and other early New England favorites. Particularly for families with children, the Plimoth Plantation experience is not complete without a visit to Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II, a full-scale re-creation of the original 106-foot-long ship that landed first at the site of present-day Provincetown on Cape Cod, then headed across to Plymouth in December 1620.

Though looming large in the nation’s history, the ship is actually startlingly small consid­ering the rough sixty-six-day voyage it undertook in transporting 102 passengers and their supplies to a new life in the then recently named “New England.”

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Nantucket – Massachusetts, U.S.A.

A Remote World, All Its Own

The island’s Wampanoag Indian name means “faraway land,” and Nantucket seems like just that. Thirty miles off the Massachusetts coast but seemingly thousands, the 49-square-mile island floats in its own insular world of time and space.

There’s a feeling of adventure as you arrive by ferry from nearby Cape Cod to this pristine enclave of 18th- and 19th-century clapboard homes. Approximately 12,000 residents live on the island year-round, but that number easily swells to 55,000 during the summer. The proud local community bucks all trends to keep alive the island’s famously distinctive character: a salty Yankee quaintness blended with New England Old Guard gentility, the quiet impression of old money, and a zealous, deep-rooted appreciation for the island’s his­tory and integrity.

Spread out among the island’s beaches and moors is one of the finest protected his­toric districts in America, with some of the most restrictive building ordinances. More than 800 homes and Quaker sea captains’ mansions were built between 1740 and 1840, when Nantucket was the world’s whaling cap­ital – it is not by chance that Melville’s Captain Ahab and First Mate Starbuck hailed from Nantucket. The weathered, pink-rose-covered homes have earned the island the nickname The Little Grey Lady of the Sea.

The most resplendent of them all, and standing in romantic end-of-the-road isolation on a windswept spit of land 8 miles from charming Nantucket Town, is The Wauwinet, the island’s finest inn.

The classic cedar-shin­gled sanctuary dates to 1860, a rambling hostelry on a 26-mile stretch of shoreline pro­tected as a wildlife refuge. Its casual yet somewhat luxurious, antique-filled country/ beach ambience carries over to the inn’s excellent and always popular restaurant, Topper’s, where specialties such as smoked seafood chowder and seared Nantucket Bay scallops celebrate the island’s frontyard bounty.

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Martha’s Vineyard – Massachusetts, U.S.A.

New England Charm Afloat

Christened in 1602 by British explorer Bartholomew Gosnold for his daughter, 20-by-10-mile Martha’s Vineyard is no longer covered with wild grapes, but it still promises island enchantment, New England mystique, and a low-profile lifestyle. In terms of both landscape and towns, it’s more diversified than mostly flat Nantucket, its neighbor 28 miles away.

Its rolling sand dunes and cranberry bogs are more reminiscent of Cape Cod, though in general the island is less developed. Oak Bluffs is a time-warp fantasy, offbeat and fun for its hodgepodge of some 300 candy-colored Victorian cottages. West Tisbury offers a Saturday Farmers’ Market (the largest of its kind in New England) as well as the Norman Rockwell-style Alley’s General Store, “Dealers in Almost Everything,” the island’s oldest busi­ness, in operation since 1858.

Among all this Americana, the island boasts a high celebrity quotient, with VIPs taking advantage of the tra­ditional respect for privacy and safety (homes and cars are still left unlocked here). Pretty Edgartown’s gracious Charlotte Inn enjoys a sophisticated in-town setting – not the place for flip-flops and hammock lounging.

Old-fashioned, elegant, and service proud, it is a cluster of five 18th- and 19th-century houses decorated in an English country manner and linked by formal gardens. Much of the inn’s island-wide fame can be attributed to its stellar French restaurant, L’Etoile, where refined dining takes place in an elegant plant-filled conservatory lit romantically by candles, and indulgent complimentary continental breakfasts are awash in morning sunshine and the smell of fresh cranberry pancakes.

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Tanglewood Music Festival – Lenox, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

A Cultural Haven in the Lovely Berkshires

The tranquil summertime home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the past sixty-plus years, 210-acre Tanglewood estate and its hilly Berkshires environs represent a cultural smorgasbord for arts lovers, offering a summer-long series that began small in 1934 and has grown into the country’s most famous and prestigious summer music festival.

Weekday evenings see performances by internationally acclaimed artists, but the real Tanglewood experience is at the popular weekend concerts, when the lush Great Lawn fills with music lovers and their elaborate picnic dinners, settling in for a lovely evening under the stars. The season culminates on Labor Day with the annual Tanglewood Jazz Fest.

High culture keeps these gentle hills alive. The Mount, Pulitzer-prize-winning nov­elist Edith Wharton’s summer home in Lenox, is the site of lectures and other events. The popular Shakespeare & Co. performances, held here since 2001, now have a new home at 70 Kemble Street. Visitors can stay at the nearby Gables Inn, which was Wharton’s home before she built The Mount. Dance enthusiasts gravitate to Jacob’s Pillow, the country’s oldest modern dance festival. Begun in 1933 on a 150-acre park on Route 20 in rural Becket (15 miles from Tanglewood), it may feature classic ballet one night and hip-hop, modern jazz, or Spanish flamenco the next.

Match high culture with high hospitality by checking into the elegant Blantyre country-house hotel, an 100-acre spread with one of the last “summer cottage” castles remaining from the area’s late-19th-century gilded era. The pampering once reserved for the owner of the Tudor estate is now regaled upon each privileged guest, right down to the perfect gourmet picnic hamper for that concert at Tanglewood.

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Cape Cod National Seashore – Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Nature, Pristine and Wild

A 40-mile strip of sea-pounded sand dunes, Cape Cod National Seashore has enjoyed federal protection only since 1961 (thanks to longtime summer son John F. Kennedy), but in fact precious little has changed since Henry David Thoreau roamed the area in the 1850s, describing it as a place where “a man can stand and put all America behind him.”

From Chatham (at the penin­sula’s “elbow”) in the south to artsy, end-of-the-line Provincetown (its “fist”) at the northernmost tip, the solitary seashore of wide, open beaches, lighthouses, big waves, and rippling dune grass is one of America’s most magnificent – over 43,000 acres of dra­matic high dunes, the ubiquitous sea, and an ever-changing play of light. In autumn, one of the area’s sweetest seasons, the Outer Cape is a flyway for more than 300 migratory species.

Once nothing more than a sandy Indian footpath, the Old King’s Highway (a.k.a. Route 6A) is today a winding two-lane road relatively free of strip malls and neon signs. It runs from the northern reaches of the Cape (oddly called the Lower Cape), through towns such as Truro and Eastham, which many con­sider to be the purest distillation of the Cape Cod spirit.

Chatham, a classic New England town, has long been an outpost for the discreetly wealthy: Witness the 25-acre, stately seaside resort of Chatham Bars Inn, a venerable mon­ument to another time. Built as a hunting lodge in 1914, the historic hotel boasts an impressive list of amenities, and is much loved for its white-gloved but friendly staff, its cottages, its wide porch lined with wicker rockers overlooking the beach, and for a Wednesday night New England clam and lob­ster bake under the stars.

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Brimfield Outdoor Antiques Show – Brimfield, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

The World Series of Flea Markets

Three times a year, the 120-acre location of America’s largest and most famous antiques market teems with more than 6,000 dealers and some 130,000 visitors who come to forage through history’s marketplace.

This is serious business for major-league swappers and shoppers, who are on a mission to pitch or buy that perfect pre-Revolutionary silver tureen or brass postal scale. Twenty-three separate fields along Route 20 resemble a col­orful Bedouin camp, brimming with tented dealers who come from all over America, bringing only their choicest pieces to this show. Major designers, decorators, and store owners come with empty U-Hauls at the ready, prepared for war.

Brimfield is not for wimps. The show’s first days are for serious hunters and gatherers, and at 4:30 A.M. on opening day (Tuesday), the wheeling and dealing is furious and fevered. Saturday and Sunday are strictly for casual hobbyists who have no idea what they’ve missed, content to pick through any remaining unwantables, seeking the odd treasure among the trinkets. They’ll usually buy something – anything – rather than go home empty-handed.

The good news? Most dealers don’t want to take merchandise back home, and will con­sider best-offer requests. Oh, and an insider’s tip: It almost always rains during the May show, and snow is not unheard of.

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Legal Sea Foods – Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

A Hallowed Haunt of Impeccably Fresh Fish

Despite Boston’s recent culinary hype, and despite a new generation of chefs that dismisses the city’s old-guard establishments as boring or bland, Bostonians cherish tradition and the tried-and-true, and that’s where Legal Sea Foods comes in.

It’s not the trendiest nor the most chic of Boston’s countless fish and shellfish eateries, but if you want freshness and quality, you’ll find it here – right out of the sea and onto your plate. (The restaurant’s motto: If it isn’t fresh, it isn’t Legal!) The family-owned institution has been around since 1950, first as a small fish market in Cambridge, then (in 1968) as a sawdust-floored restaurant. Things are a mite fancier today at the twenty-six Legal locations, but the menu has not changed radically. Its rich but not too thick New England clam chowder is arguably the best in town (constant queues stand testimony), and so are the fried clams.

Whatever looked like a winner at the morning’s market turns up on the day’s menu – broiled, baked, stir fried, grilled, fried, steamed, or in a casserole, with raw oysters and littleneck and cherrystone clam first courses among the most requested offerings. (Don’t worry: The restaurant is fanatical about testing its seafood for freshness and purity.)

Astonishingly helpful and friendly staff are visibly proud to work at one of Boston’s landmark restaurants, and the renown of their Boston cream pie does its part to bring in the crowds, too.

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Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Unique Creation of One Woman’s Personal Taste

Beantown is a gem of a museum town. The city’s heavyweight, the Museum of Fine Arts, is one of the finest in the nation, particularly prized for its unrivaled collection of Asian and Japanese art. Among the more intimate museums, however, the small, exquisite Gardner Museum is a standout, housing an idiosyncratic collection of European, Asian, and American art that’s large enough to exhaust any museumgoer.

In the 1890s, the fiercely individualistic and wealthy Mrs. Gardner called upon art historian Bernard Berenson to help her amass one of America’s most important private collections, which she opened to the public in 1903 with more than 2,500 objects, including works by Giotto, Raphael, Rembrandt, and the only Piero della Francesca fresco outside Italy. The museum’s highlight is arguably Titian’s Europa, long considered one of the finest Italian paintings in America.

A John Singer Sargent portrait of Gardner presides over the museum today, but that’s not the only way in which her influence remains known: Provisions of her will specify that the collection be held in permanent trust for the “education and enjoyment of the public forever.”

What that means is that the museum’s home – an ersatz 15th-century-style Venetian palazzo built in 1900, and known as Fenway Court when Mrs. Gardner lived here – remains exactly as “Mrs. Jack” left it when she died in 1924: a haphazardly plotted mosaic of eclectic Victorian clutter, its art galleries surrounding a four-story skylit courtyard filled with blooming flowers and statuary and ringed with tall windows on every level.