WILLIAMSTOWN -- At the apex of the Williams College campus, the stone spires of Thompson Memorial Chapel pierce a cloud-streaked sky that could be cut from a canvas by John Constable. Beyond, the Berkshire hills ripple into the distance.
If this sounds too bucolic to be true, consider it part of the bang for the considerable buck it costs for a Williams education. But it does not require four years to sample the best of what Williamstown has to offer, such as fabulous art and food.
For an artistic entry point, check in at Field Farm in South Williamstown, although the only summer vacancies may well be for next summer. Owned by the Trustees of Reservations, this B&B once belonged to members of the Bloedel family, prodigious collectors of modern art and furniture. The house looks out onto a sculpture garden and farmland.
Taking in a Friday night show is a good way to shake off the road dust after tossing your suitcases into the room. While others are battling traffic en route to the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge or to Tanglewood in Lenox, stay put for the Williamstown Theatre Festival, also noted for its summer stock. On campus, several productions run on different stages. The main stage recently featured Campbell Scott, Marisa Tomei, and Steven Weber in the Noel Coward comedy "Design for Living." (The Williamstown festival is a big draw, so order tickets before leaving home.)
A day is just long enough to conduct a leisurely art walk in Williamstown proper. The downtown spreads out over three parallel streets, Water, Spring, and South. It's possible to walk all three in 20 minutes without stopping -- but stopping is definitely part of the agenda.
Start at the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute on South Street. A small museum strong in traditional American and European painting, the Clark gives visitors a chance to saunter past Sargents in a generous envelope of personal space.
When it's time for a coffee break, the museum has a pleasant cafe; if a snack is in order, hold out for Cold Spring Coffee Roasters on Spring Street, which offers pastries worthy of royalty (made on the premises) to munch with the espresso.
The art stroll continues with two impressive galleries and two inspired collections of artful antiques. On Spring Street, the Harrison Gallery shows work by nationally known artists such as painters Wayne Thiebaud and Stephen Hannock, potter Brother Thomas Bezanson, and mobile artist Mark Davis.
Other artists this summer include silversmiths, sculptors, and South African tribal potters. Owned by two Williams College alumnae (including a former overseer of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) who wanted to add to the community they enjoyed as students, the gallery makes for a calming visit, with armchairs and plenty of room to browse.
A few doorways up Spring Street, the LiAsia Gallery sells Chinese art objects and antiques, including rustic architectural details salvaged from 19th-century buildings in southern China. Owner John Meyer, who grew up in Asia, has re-created a bit of China in his arrangements of hand-carved wooden lattice windows and doors, chairs, chests, and tables, priced from less than $100 and up.
On fine summer days, lunch at Helen's Place can be had outdoors on a terrace in front of Library Antiques, an eclectic store also on Spring Street. Head chef Todd Lough, who has slung hash for the upper crust in places like Palm Beach, Fla., makes innovative deli food, reasonably priced ($3.25-$8.50). While the food settles, browse Library Antiques for objets d'art, clothing, and oddities.
A left on Latham Street leads to the Plum Gallery on Water Street. Owners Mary Natalizia, a painter, and Nicholas Whitman, a photographer, opened the gallery to show work that inspires them, from photography to sculpture to contemporary abstract painting. Whitman, who grew up in town, renovated an 18th-century building and the adjacent candy store he visited as a child, leaving hand-hewn beams and beadboard ceilings intact.
The Williams College Museum of Art, on Route 2 between Water and Spring streets, announces itself with enormous metal eyeballs peering from grassy berms. This sets the tone for edgy exhibits from such artists as Sol LeWitt and Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba, a filmmaker who explores Vietnamese history and identity.
Feasting on art can whet other appetites; two outstanding options vie for the upscale diner. European chefs at Yasmin's Restaurant at the Orchards Hotel on Route 2 create classic continental cuisine; entrees are priced from $20 to $30. On Water Street, Mezze wows taste buds with simple food seasoned with striking flavors (casual fare and entrees are $12-$27). Check Spring Street for less expensive ethnic fare: Thai, Indian, and Latin.
The Sunday brunch buffet at the Williams Inn on Route 2, at $19.95 a head, covers all three meals in one elegant sweep. Craving pancakes? The Moonlight Diner and Grille, just east of town, makes a velvety short stack for only $2.95.
Save room for delectable Berkshire brand ice cream at Green River Farms in South Williamstown on the way out of town. The farm's petting zoo, with its llamas and alpacas, rabbits and ferrets, kittens, puppies, and foals, draws oohs from adults as well as children, and the $2 suggested donation supports a local no-kill animal shelter. Before hitting the road, stock up on local produce at the gourmet store on the premises.
But back up: It's Saturday night, and there's an hour and a half to kill before dinner or theater at 8. Drive half an hour to the top of Mount Greylock in North Adams, lean on the stone wall, and watch the sun burn a hole in a vast canvas, this one reminiscent of a J.M.W. Turner.
Jane Roy Brown is a writer based in Western Massachusetts.