The state of MASSACHUSETTS was established with a lofty aim: to become, in the words of seventeenth-century governor John Winthrop, a utopian “City upon a hill”. This Puritan clarity of thought and forcefulness of purpose can be traced from the foundation of Harvard College in 1636, through the intellectual impetus behind the Revolutionary War and the crusade against slavery, to the nineteenth-century achievements of writers such as Melville, Emerson, Hawthorne and Thoreau.
Spending a few days in Boston is strongly recommended. Perhaps America’s most historic city, and certainly one of its most elegant, it offers a great deal of modern life as well, thanks in part to the presence of Cambridge, the home of Harvard University and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), just across the river. Several historic towns are within easy reach – Salem to the north, known for its “witch” sights, Concord and Lexington, just inland, richly imbued with Revolutionary War history, and Plymouth, to the south, the site of the Pilgrims’ first settlement (1620).
One of the most celebrated slices of real estate in America, Cape Cod boasts a dazzling, three-hundred-mile coastline with some of the best beaches in New England. A slender, crooked peninsula, it’s easily accessed from the region’s snug villages, many of which have been preserved as they were a hundred or more years ago. Today, much of the land on the Cape, from its salt marshes to its ever-eroding dunes, is considered a fragile and endangered ecosystem, and once you head north to the Outer Cape, past the spectacular dunes of Cape Cod National Seashore, you get a feeling for why this narrow spit of land still has a reputation as a seaside wilderness. Provincetown, at the very tip of Cape Cod, is a popular gay resort and summer destination for bohemians, artists and fun-seekers lured by the excellent beaches, art galleries and welcoming atmosphere.
Just off the south coast of Cape Cod, the relatively unspoiled islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have long been some of the most popular and prestigious vacation destinations in the USA. Both mingle an easy-going cosmopolitan atmosphere and some of the best restaurants and B&Bs on the East Coast. Nantucket is usually considered the more highfalutin’ of the pair, teased for its preppy fashions; Martha is more expansive and laidback, known for its elaborate gingerbread-style houses, wild moorlands and perfect beaches.
Western Massachusetts is best known for the beautiful Berkshires, which host the celebrated Tanglewood summer music festival and boast museum-filled towns such as North Adams and Williamstown – both in the far northwest corner of the state, at the end of the incredibly scenic Mohawk Trail. Amherst and Northampton are stimulating college towns in the verdant Pioneer Valley, with all the cafés, restaurants and bookstores you could want.