Timing the maple-syrup season -- when Manhattanites make weekend pilgrimages north to stock up for the rest of the year -- can be as difficult as predicting when the fall colors will change. In parts of New England, they don't call it winter or spring; they call it sugaring season. Roughly translated, that's March to early April, barring late snow or an early frost. The sugarhouses closest to the city are in the Berkshire foothills (about a three-and-a-half-hour drive), and on sunny Sunday mornings, folks line up outside the pancake restaurant belonging to the South Face Farm Sugarhouse, in Ashfield. Once inside, you'll have to give in to temptation. "Some people go whole-hog and get the cinnamon-bread French toast and the maple-syrup ice cream and the blueberries," admits owner Tom McCrumm, "then smother the whole thing with maple syrup." There are tours of the syrup-making process, and maple candy, maple cream, maple-sugar-coated walnuts, and several grades of maple syrup (still warm, if you're lucky) available to take home. Overnight 30 minutes south in the college town extraordinaire, Northampton, playground for students from Smith, Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and U. Mass. The Hotel Northampton, a five-story brick Victorian, was recently renovated, and around the corner, Mulino's Trattoria serves mountainous portions of Italian food, while its downstairs bar often features local jazz musicians. And dont forget a scoop at Herrell's Ice Cream, on Old South Street: it's the best ice cream in the state.
DETAILS South Face Farm Sugarhouse (413-628-3268; www.shaysnet.com/~southface); the Hotel Northampton (800-547-3529; rooms start at $130); Mulino's Trattoria (413-586-8900; entrées, $10 to $15); Herrell's Ice Cream (413-586-9700).