Heading to Old Sturbridge Village? Check out a nearby luxury hotel, with a blend of old and new. Ideal for family vacations or girlfriend getaways, the Southbridge Hotel & Conference Center can also be a base for a foodie tour.
Family Trip to Southbridge MA
Southbridge, Massachusetts, was the longtime home of American Optical. The family- owned company created a company town, one where you had to plan trips according to shift changes; there was simply no crossing town when thousands of factory workers poured out of the massive headquarters.
But American Optical sold off pieces of its business, and moved its headquarters to California in 1997. The factory site is now the home of the Southbridge Hotel & Conference Center.
The unique hotel has been open for 12 years, but due to a longtime military contract, it has rarely been open to leisure travelers. So it is just now becoming a ‘new’ hotel.
Its most striking asset is the facade of the factory building, preserved with a few architectural features inside. Beyond those bones, it is a thoroughly modern hotel, with large, comfortable rooms, a big indoor pool and a fitness center with 2 racquetball courts and a half court basketball gym.
Southbridge may not be well known but it is just minutes from Old Sturbridge Village and the hotel offers an upgrade over the 2-star chain hotels near that living history museum. And it has nearby free attractions to help you keep costs down.
This area of Massachusetts, and Connecticut features lush farmland that local artisans take advantage of. One such restaurant is B.T.’s Smokehouse, an unusual choice for a vegetarian. But the menu actually has a number of vegetarian and gluten free specialties, and as long as you don’t mind sharing a large picnic table with others gnawing on bones, vegetarians can be very happy here.
When I visited, there was a special of smoked tofu that might not convert a carnivore, but was so tasty it was chosen by two meat eaters in my group. There are three homemade sauces to put on it: a jalapeno-spiked barbecue, a house sauce with vinegar and a slightly sweeter version.
I had the tofu as a po boy, loaded with a spicy remoulade, lettuce and tomato on a toasted bun. There is also a catfish po boy, and a chopped salad filled with cheese, and served in a puffy tortilla bowl.
All the sides were also vegetarian; quick pickled cucumber, spicy black eye peas, creamy potato salad, cole slaw and moist corn bread.
We also ate at Salem Cross Inn, a farmhouse on the National Register of Historic Places. The food includes produce from the garden, and I had a lovely stuffed portobella mushroom.
The house dates from the 1700s and was purchased by the current owners’ father in the 1950s. He was a self-taught handy person who brought in his family to help restore the house–without even knowing what he was going to use it for.
The bucolic setting and fertile land lend itself to the farm-to-table restaurant, and the place is filled with antiques collected by the father.
As a vegetarian, I was somewhat horrified by the roasting jack, an ancient contraption used for prime rib. It is quite a conversation piece, whether resting in the giant fireplace in the basement or used for its intending purpose, cooking tremendous sales of meat.
What Works for Families at Southbridge Hotel & Conference Center
- The pool! With noodles and plenty of space, it is ideal for blowing off steam
Mini fridges in rooms
- Children’s menu at the restaurants
What Doesn’t Work for Families
The hallway outside my room was loud until quite late; light sleepers might be disturbed.
Visions Restaurant has a buffet breakfast with lots of fresh fruit and Greek yogurt, along with hot food.
Shades Lounge had warm pretzel sticks with a beer and cheese sauce – a great snack to have with drinks. The hummus had a bite with chipotle. There were several vegetarian options, including hearty salads (with salmon if you eat fish) and perfectly cooked vegetarian risotto with mushroom and peas.
If your kids like macaroni and cheese, the rich version here, studded with lobster, is sure to please. You might have to taste a bite or six to make sure it’s safe to eat.
- There is free Wi-Fi and I was able to sit in the courtyard and work.
- The fitness center was small, but the pool, racquetball courts and basketball courts were wonderful additions. Some days there are free aqua-aerobics classes, and you can unwind in the hot tub
- A lounge area has a billiards table and darts
My king sized bed was comfortable and the room had plenty of space. It had a great, unique touch – a pillow menu! Better than room service – a delivery of a pillow specifically for my style of sleeping.