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College Towns of New England

College Directory

Northeastern College Towns Luring More Tourists
by Deborah Straw                                                             

For college towns, appearance is one of the major selling points -- as far as potential travel destinations. That's why many of them are so aesthetically pleasing. And, not only that, but most offer stimulating concerts, readings and lectures and are often home to nationally or internationally famous museums and libraries. Don't forget the amenities, including good restaurants and well-stocked bookstores. And, where there is an overabundance of textbooks, there's usually a funky coffee shop -- not to mention intelligent conversation.

Since we can't discuss all of them, we've decided to narrow it down to three small college towns in the Northeast that fit the image: Burlington, Vermont; Northampton, Massachusetts; and Hanover, New Hampshire. These towns represent some of the most appealing travel destinations in their respective states.

Burlington, Vermont, home of the University of Vermont, is a socially and artistically-conscious place that welcomes visitors year-round. Always beautiful, it is quite cosmopolitan. Church Street, the center of downtown, is an award-winning pedestrian mall; its Lake Champlain waterfront is becoming the center for recreation; and its selection of restaurants rivals any metropolitan area. Burlington is a fine place to live and to visit, as witnessed by many awards over the last few years, including the "Great American Main Street Award," and "Most Liveable City (for cities with populations under 100,000) in America" awarded by the National Conference of Mayors.

Because Burlington boasts six colleges and universities within a ten-mile radius, the arts are alive and well. The largest school is the University of Vermont, but the endless stream of lectures, concerts and art shows take place at all of the colleges.

Food in Burlington is top-rate. The area hosts more than 200 restaurants. Try Smokejacks, Sweet Tomatoes, Opaline's or the Daily Planet, all downtown. The introduction of the New England Culinary Institute's restaurant and shop two years ago has improved Burlington's palate even more. A school for chefs, NECI also runs restaurants in neighboring Essex Junction and nearby Montpelier, the state's capital.

Students of all ages keep Burlington's residents on their intellectual toes. In the summer months, there's the Mozart Festival, which holds outdoor and indoor concerts in spots such as Shelburne Farms, the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, and aboard a Lake Champlain ferry. The festival also hosts a winter series, generally in a downtown church. The Lane Series and the Flynn Mainstage Series also offer world-class concerts year-round, many in the Flynn Theatre for the Performing Arts on Main Street, a restored art deco masterpiece. Burlington is also home to the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and a flood of festivals, including a reggae festival, a jazz festival, a folk music festival and a film festival.

Need a place to stay? Burlington is home to two fairly new, elegant lodgings (both in elderly homes) - Willard Street Inn in downtown Burlington and Heart of the Village Inn in nearby downtown Shelburne.

About four hours southeast of Burlington is Northampton, Massachusetts, home of Smith College, established by Sophia Smith in 1871. She wanted to found a women's college "with the design to furnish for my own sex means and facilities for education equal to those which are afforded now in our colleges to young men." The college still serves only women, including many older returning students. Its brick building and green tree-lined campus is worth a stay.

One highlight of any trip to Northampton is a visit to the city's art museum, Smith College Museum of Art, which has a world-class collection. It includes work that spans 4,500 years, focusing mostly on European and American paintings, such as pieces by Claude Monet, Pierre Augustus Renoir, Pablo Picasso, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

Two other highlights in this college town are its many antique (high brow and funky) shops, centered around Market and Bridge Streets (the latter is an extension of Main Street on the east end) and its high-quality craft shops scattered along Main Street. An excellent new and used bookstore, Raven, is also situated downtown, and several fine restaurants are within walking distance of the college. Two local favorites are India House at 45 State Street and Spoleto at 50 Main Street, featuring creative, northern Italian cuisine.

One odd and somewhat disappointing fact about Northampton is its lack of bed and breakfasts downtown, but you'll find one about five miles out of town in Florence. The Knoll Bed & Breakfast is on Route 9, which runs into Main Street in Northampton. This homey, small inn has cozy rooms, good, hearty breakfasts, and reasonable prices. A great little diner is almost directly across the street. If you do want to stay in town, there's always the modern, centrally located Hotel Northampton at 36 King Street.

Finally, Hanover, New Hampshire is home to prestigious Dartmouth College, founded in 1769. Hanover is the smallest of the three and the most traditional. However, it is a lively town, resplendent with quality art shows, concerts and film series, and an excellent book store. The Hood Museum of Art on Wheelock Street, open daily except Mondays, is a world-class exhibition space with a large permanent collection and excellent changing shows, ranging from painting to photography to sculpture.

The Dartmouth Bookstore is one of the best independent stores in New England, if not in the country. Started in 1883, it is also the oldest family-owned bookstore in the country. It is extremely well-stocked with books and magazines. In Hanover, a bed and breakfast that is popular and attractive is The Trumbull House, at 40 Etna Road, about two miles from the college.

These three college towns are all fascinating; they represent New England life at its finest. Each is a good destination for at least a couple of days, especially during the spring and fall months. Keep in mind that because they attract visitors from around the world, they are not inexpensive, but bargains can be found.

Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut

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