Berkshires for the Holidays
One of the goals I have in mind when I’m thinking about destinations, hotels and attractions for this column is that they’re places mvm readers might not have considered visiting. For this year’s holiday issue Travel Advisory, I decided to pack up the car and head west to the Massachusetts Berkshires.
Although most people have heard of it, few of the locals I know have been to the region more than a handful of times. Although it’s only about a two-hour drive from the Merrimack Valley, the Berkshires don’t seem to be on most people’s radar.
Primarily considered a summertime destination, the Berkshires region, with its rolling hills, Gilded Age mansions, and heaps of historic New England charm, is one of Massachusetts’ most picturesque. Roughly comprised of the area west of the Connecticut River and bordering on New York, Vermont and Connecticut, the Berkshires are also a fantastic place to spend time during the holiday season, whether you’re looking for a romantic Thanksgiving getaway or want some time to relax with family and friends.
I checked into the Kemble Inn in Lenox on a rainy Wednesday afternoon in October. Just a five-minute walk from Lenox’s charming downtown, this converted mansion makes an ideal home base for exploring the area. It has nine cozy guest rooms, a full-service restaurant, and a cocktail lounge (see the inn’s website for restaurant and lounge hours). Several of the inn’s rooms have wood-burning fireplaces, a definite plus if you’re visiting when it’s cold outside.
The gorgeous mountain view from the rear of Kemble’s property was a joy to wake up to (I’d suggest requesting a room at the back of the house). Almost equally appreciated was the self-serve coffee and tea, available 24 hours a day, and the warm, fluffy bathrobe I found in my closet — just the thing to ward off the morning chill.
A mile down the road from Kemble Inn is Canyon Ranch Lenox, a wellness resort offering an array of yoga and fitness classes, organized outdoor sports, cooking classes, medical services, and spiritual wellness workshops. The resort offers 126 overnight guest rooms, but many people come to Canyon Ranch to spend a few happy hours in its celebrated spa.
After touring Canyon Ranch’s facilities, I visited the spa and enjoyed a 50-minute massage that was unbelievably relaxing after a long day of sightseeing. The massage therapist also helped alleviate the pain I’d been experiencing in my ankles and feet from hiking, an added bonus that I greatly appreciated.
In addition to massage sessions, Canyon Ranch’s 100,000-square-foot spa complex offers a variety of skin-care treatments, fitness and gym facilities, saunas, whirlpools, steam rooms, and a full-service salon. If you’re planning a spa day as part of your getaway, Canyon Ranch has something for everyone — nearly all of it featuring beautiful mountain views.
Easy to navigate on foot and home to several quaint boutiques that would be ideal for some hassle-free holiday shopping, downtown Lenox also offers a number of restaurants that are worth a visit. I dined at Alta Restaurant & Wine Bar on the first night of my trip and was not disappointed.
With a multipage wine list — 24 are available by the glass — the small restaurant serves Mediterranean-inspired dishes made from locally sourced organic ingredients. I enjoyed grilled swordfish with seasonal vegetables and a tomato ragout accompanied by a delicious wine from Austria. The European-style service was very good, too.
The scene was lively at Alta on the weekday evening I visited, and its small dining room filled quickly. If you plan to eat there, and you should consider it, I’d strongly recommend making a reservation.
The Berkshires region is known for its cultural attractions. Perhaps most famous is Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Several museums and arts venues are open during the colder months, and if you visit then you’ll avoid the crowds of tourists that flock to the Berkshires in the summer and fall.
One of the region’s best and most popular cultural attractions is the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. Home to much of the renowned illustrator’s original work, the museum was founded with the help of Rockwell and his wife, Molly, in 1969. Rockwell’s work is exhibited chronologically, allowing visitors to better understand his evolution as an artist and the significant influence he had on American life and culture over the course of his career.
One of my favorite things about this museum is that many of Rockwell’s paintings and drawings are displayed alongside the reference photos he used as guidance. These are fascinating to see, mainly because they help the viewer to recognize Rockwell’s talent. I also learned a lot by reading the gallery notes displayed beside his works; for example, that he was heavily influenced by the Dutch masters, especially Johannes Vermeer.
Naumkeag is another attraction you won’t want to miss, especially if you are visiting the Berkshires during the holiday season. This Gilded Age mansion and 48-acre estate in Stockbridge, once the summer home of a wealthy New York City attorney, is owned and managed today by The Trustees of Reservations. From Nov. 21 through Dec. 31, Naumkeag will hold its annual Winterlights event, when the estate’s gardens will be illuminated with acres of enchanting displays. Family-friendly activities such as scavenger hunts will be part of the fun. Refreshments will be available, too. Visit Naumkeag’s website for Winterlights hours.
The final stop on my Berkshires adventure was Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield. This former Shaker commune, founded in 1790, is remarkably well preserved, and a working farm is still in operation. Vegetables, fruit and herbs are grown on the property, and livestock such as cows, sheep and turkeys roam the village’s fields. The village’s buildings are a sight to behold, some with original marble floors, and all featuring the Shakers’ extraordinary craftsmanship, brightly colored signature paint, and impressive ingenuity.
The best example of this might be the village’s iconic round barn, a true marvel of engineering that is as beautiful as it is simple.
Hancock Shaker Village will offer a number of holiday-inspired classes and workshops throughout November and December, including “A Shaker Harvest” cooking class on Nov. 17, featuring Shaker recipes in preparation for Thanksgiving. Holiday ornament- and wreath-making workshops are also scheduled, as well as a “Service of Lessons & Carols” modeled on the “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” traditionally celebrated in England on Christmas Eve. See the village’s website for dates, times and ticket information.
To discover more ideas for things to do in the Berkshires during the holidays, visit Berkshires.org.
Canyon Ranch Lenox
Alta Restaurant & Wine Bar
Norman Rockwell Museum
Hancock Shaker Village