The sleepy mountain towns of western Massachusetts come alive every summer as several of America’s top performing arts festivals blossom at Tanglewood and other local stages. Of course, besides being the summer getaway for the nation’s culturati, the Berkshires are also a lovely place to relax, be pampered, and do nothing at all.
WHERE TO STAY
Posh is the word at the Wheatleigh Inn, an Italian palazzo in Lenox where guests dress to the nines for dinner. The rustic Old Inn on the Green in New Marlborough has a handful of quaint rooms with modern comforts (like Jacuzzi tubs) and a celebrated restaurant known for its romantic atmosphere and French-influenced American cuisine. And Stockbridge’s Red Lion Inn, which has been in business since 1773 and where five presidents have slept, has been expanded and renovated in recent years while maintaining its Colonial feel.
WHAT TO DO
Tanglewood, the summer retreat in Lenox for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops, is what put the Berkshires on the cultural map, and no summer visit would be complete without tickets to a lawn concert. (Still to come this season are Pops appearances by Chris Botti and James Taylor.) Jacob’s Pillow, in Becket, is one of the nation’s premier summer dance festivals. Broadway stars come to the Berkshires too, to act each summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Fans of more avant-garde music will want to lend an ear to the annual Bang on a Can summer festival (this year, featuring famed minimalist composer Steve Reich) at North Adams’ MASS MoCA, one of America’s best museums of modern art.
Stockbridge is truly a Norman Rockwell town; the artist lived here for 25 years and painted many of his scenes of classic Americana here, some of which are on display at the town’s Norman Rockwell Museum. Stockbridge was also the site of counterculture haunt Alice’s Restaurant, made famous in Arlo Guthrie’s song. Alice Brock’s eatery gave way to Theresa’s Stockbridge Café, serving pizza and Mediterranean food, while the church in nearby Great Barrington where Alice famously served Arlo a “Thanksgiving dinner that can’t be beat” is now the Guthrie Center, a cultural and ecumenical spiritual center where Guthrie himself still performs frequently.
WHERE TO EAT
Hobson’s Choice in Williamstown is a classic steak and lobster house where you can create your own surf and turf combos from various game and seafood selections. Brix Wine Bar in Pittsfield earns praise not only for its extensive wine list but also for the steak and lamb dishes on its bistro menu. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s housed in an EconoLodge; Lenox’s Flavours wins unanimous raves for its authentic Malaysian cuisine. Gourmet pizzas with wood-fired organic sourdough crusts draw long lines at Baba Louie’s in Great Barrington. The Mill on the Floss, in New Ashford, serves French country food in an 18th-century farmhouse; one diner was inspired enough by the sweetbreads to write a poem about them, which is now printed on the menu.
The weekend of August 6 through 9 marks the Tanglewood Wine & Food Classic, a festival of gourmet tastings in and around Lenox.
WHERE TO RELAX
Besides the subtle sounds of string sections, Lenox is home to several serene spas. The fabled Canyon Ranch spa has a branch here, where the lavish accommodations are actually modeled after Versailles. Yoga and meditation buffs will want to visit Kripalu, where electronic distractions are taboo and meals are eaten in serene silence. (Deepak Chopra will be leading a workshop there from August 14 to 16.) And the Cranwell Resort offers elegant lodging, a huge spa and fitness center, and 18 holes of golf.