Plenty of room to roam in the Pioneer Valley
NORTHFIELD - We wanted to get far enough from Boston, but not more than two hours away. We wanted some culture, but also some cross-country skiing and some rural winter peace. We wanted a warm and welcoming bed-and-breakfast or country inn, but we wanted to keep it affordable.
Some Web-surfing turned up a town and a B&B that felt like the right mix, the right distance, and the right price. And we were right on the mark.
The Pioneer Valley town of Northfield boasts a rich history, dating to the 1700s. And now it boasts an overnight spot that makes it worth devoting a weekend or more to exploring the legacy of the town and the surrounding
Steve and Joan Stoia bought the down-at-the-heels Centennial House Bed and Breakfast in 2004, and set about transforming it into a gracious but still easy-going guest house that lives up to the stately premises. The house, built in 1811, offers six guest rooms and suites.
Traveling with our son, Daniel, 13, we booked a room with a double bed and an alcove for $119. Like all the rooms, it was comfortably fitted with antiquey furnishings and comforters, but a tad cozy for the three of us for two nights.
Fortunately, the huge two-bedroom Deerfield suite was available, and Joan offered it to us at a low-season discounted $159 a night. So we made the switch, and happily. The smaller room would have been ideal with a young child, or for just a night. But we were able to spread out (and pick our own TV programs on separate cable boxes in each bedroom) for a three-day weekend.
We also enjoyed the enormous bathroom and the jetted tub and separate shower. The bathroom was part of a redo of the suite after the Stoias took over the B&B, which used to be the president’s residence for the Northfield Mount Herman School.
But the special charm of the B&B is the amount of common space. Nearly the entire first floor is available to guests, from the breakfast room to a living room with overstuffed couches, and another gathering room. Those spaces overcome the annoyance that often keeps us from opting for a B&B - that we feel like intruders. That’s not the case at the Centennial.
Did I mention the breakfast? Joan Stoia prepared blueberry pancakes on our first morning, delighting my son (and me). The second morning we had a fine frittata, apple scones, and bacon. There was fresh orange juice, fresh fruit, yogurt, and strong coffee. It was a feast that kept us from thinking about lunch until 2 p.m. each day.
Still, we did get out to explore. Northfield’s central area is spread along both sides of Route 63. There’s not much in the town itself, but the area offers much to do. We skied at the Northfield Mountain Recreational Area, which offers cross-country rentals and 30 kilometers of trails. In the summer, there’s hiking, bike trails, and boat tours on the Connecticut, the lifeblood that defines the valley.
We roamed north and south in our three days. We headed upriver for the 25-minute trip to southern Vermont, enjoying the funky shops in Brattleboro’s restored downtown. We roamed farther north, to Grafton, and then east back to the river to rambunctious working-class Bellows Falls.
We also skied at the Brattleboro Outing Club on the local country club grounds. The volunteer club opens up a ski hut with cross-country rentals each weekend. But the Grafton complex, which we drove past, looked like a bigger and more inviting venue.
On our final day, we drove south for 20 minutes to see the historic town of Deerfield, certainly one of the most charming and best-preserved Colonial towns in the state.
Northfield thus opens windows for travelers to some rich Connecticut River history within half an hour’s drive.
But we made sure to retreat both days to the comfort of the Centennial House by late afternoon - not least for the inviting tray of home-baked chocolate chip cookies that the Stoias put out on the dining room table.
James F. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.