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Weekender: Back to School

Theater

Williamstown Theatre Festival 413/597-3399; www.wtfestival.org. The summer celebration, which won the 2002 Tony Award for best regional theater, occasionally features superstars (Gwyneth Paltrow, Nathan Lane, and Stockard Channing are WTF alumni). Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts 274 Main St., Northampton; 800/224-6432. This month's performances include Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, staged by the Oxford University Dramatic Society, and Thomas Cole, A Waking Dream, a multimedia work about the founder of the Hudson River school, conceived by Donald T. Sanders.

Museums

Not just the stamping ground for the academic elite, western Massachusetts has a wealth of impressive art collections. Williams College Museum of Art (15 Lawrence Hall Dr., Suite 2, Williamstown; 413/597-2429; www.williams.edu/WCMA) has corralled an eclectic range of artists, including Goya, Pissarro, Beckmann, De Chirico, and Cornell. The Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute (225 South St., Williamstown; 413/458-2303; www.clarkart.edu) is best known for its French Impressionist paintings, including 30 canvases by Renoir. The sprawling 13-acre Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (87 Marshall St., North Adams; 413/664-4481; www.massmoca.org) is the largest contemporary art space in the United States. On view this month: the only bronze sculpture by Joseph Beuys, and Robert Wilson's 14 Stations, a post-millennial multimedia update of the traditional Christian Stations of the Cross. Take a tour of the Dickinson Homestead, the 19th-century home of Emily Dickinson (280 Main St., Amherst; 413/542-8161; www.dickinsonhomestead.org), in which the famous poet spent all but 15 years of her life.

Outdoors

Stay at one of 56 campsites or in a log cabin at Mohawk Trail State Forest (Rte. 2, Charlemont; 413/339-5504; www.state.ma.us/dem/parks/mhwk.htm); you can hike the paths and explore more than 18 miles of rivers and streams. Easily accessible from many streets in the Amherst area, the Norwottuck Bicycle Trail (www.amherstcommon.com/walking_tour/bikepath) winds through eight miles of wetlands and farming country from southern Amherst to Elwell State Park in Northampton. Rent wheels at Valley Bicycle in Hadley (8 Railroad St.; 413/584-4466) or Amherst (319 Main St.; 413/256-0880). The Hopkins Memorial Forest (413/597-4353; www.williams.edu/CES/hmf) spans 2,500 acres, with gardens and 15 miles of walking paths. In the winter, the snow-covered trails are perfect for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Getting There

The town of Amherst, in northwestern Massachusetts, is 90 minutes west of Boston and three hours north of New York City. The nearest airport is Bradley International, 45 minutes from Amherst, serving Hartford, Connecticut, and Springfield, Massachusetts. Amtrak (800/872-7245; www.amtrak.com) has limited service to Amherst and extensive service to Springfield (30 minutes away by car). From Amherst to Williamstown is a 90-minute drive. It's best to have a car to do a true campus tour, but the University of Massachusetts Transit System (413/545-0056; www.umass.edu/campus_services/transit) and the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (413/781-7882; www.pvta.com) both offer free bus service between the Five Colleges and surrounding towns (excluding Williamstown).

–Melissa Eisberg

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