The Connecticut River cuts a swath through the middle of Massachusetts , drawing a line between the gentle hills of the east and the rising Berkshire Mountains to the west. In between is a fertile bread basket of vegetable and livestock farms that seems more like the Midwest than the Northeast. Adding to the surrealism are acres of tobacco plants, which are dried in barns by the roadside.
In the midst of the farmland is the mini-metropolis of Springfield , along with the vaunted “five colleges”: the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, Smith, Amherst, Hampshire, and Mount Holyoke.
I-91 runs like a spine down the Pioneer Valley, connecting the Mass Pike (I-90) to the south and Route 2 to the north. Shuttles to the valley are available from Bradley International Airport (11 Schoephoester Rd., I-91, exit 40, Windsor Locks, www.bradleyairport.com ), just south of Springfield  over the Connecticut  border. All of the major car rental companies are available at the airport.
Several shuttle companies offer transport from Bradley Airport, including Valley Transporter (413/253-1350, www.valleytransporter.com ) and Michael’s Limousine & Airport Service (800/555-5593, www.michaelslimo.com ). Shuttles to Springfield take about 15 minutes and cost around $40.
Springfield is the headquarters for Peter Pan Bus Lines (1776 Main St., 800/343-9999, www.peterpanbus.com ), which has routes from the airport and all over Western Massachusetts , including to stations in Northampton  (1 Roundhouse Plaza) and Amherst  (8 Main St., 893 West St., University of Massachusetts). Trains arrive at the Springfield Amtrak Station (66 Lyman St., 800/872-7245, www.amtrak.com ).
Buses to all locations within the valley are run by the Pioneer Valley Transportation Authority (413/781-7882, www.pvta.com ).