4 The Berkshires
By Peter Jon Lindberg
Countless music, dance, and theater festivals lure urban refugees to the rolling hills of the Berkshires during "Tanglewood season" in July and August. Yet few summer visitors realize how idyllic western Massachusetts can be on a chilly weekend in January. Berkshire County offers all the pristine, wintry beauty of neighboring Vermont, but with hardly any of the ski crowds and weekend traffic. And hotel prices drop dramatically in the off-season: rates at the Canyon Ranch spa resort, for example, are slashed by 30 percent. Despite the Vacancy signs, the Berkshires are very much open for business, and winter weekenders often have the stylish boutiques of Great Barrington or the antiques shops of Sheffield to themselves—not to mention 138,000 near-empty acres of nature preserves, many laced with cross-country and snowshoe trails. Best bet: Mount Washington State Forest (413/528-0330). The county's myriad art collections, all open year-round, provide a welcome escape from the cold. To top it off, renowned restaurants like Verdura—booked weeks ahead in summer—actually have tables available. All this and a crackling fire in your hotel-room hearth.
Hancock Shaker Village (800/817-1137), one of the nation's 19 original Shaker communities, settled in 1783 and made a museum in 1961.
Culture: Where the Art Is
Who needs Art History 101? Berkshire County's museums house enough masterpieces for a crash course (well, almost). The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown (413/458-2303) contains a remarkable collection of 19th-century French works—including 35 Renoirs—assembled by the Singer sewing machine heir and his wife.
• The 500-plus paintings, drawings, and sketches in the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge (413/298-4100) suit the Berkshires sensibility. Rockwell's early illustrations for such magazines as Boys' Life and the Saturday Evening Post are on display through March 2.
• At the other end of the spectrum is Mass MoCA (413/664-4481), a mammoth red-brick factory complex in North Adams that's now a showcase for contemporary art; currently on display are paintings, drawings, and conceptual pieces by 14 new Viennese artists.
Fly to Albany (45 minutes by car) or to Boston or New York (two to three hours).
WHERE TO STAY
Wheatleigh Dramatically redesigned in 2001, this 19-room brick palazzo combines old-world opulence (plaster busts, marble fireplaces) and latter-day amenities (Frette, Bulgari, Bose). Doubles from $425; Hawthorne Rd., Lenox; 413/637-0610; www.wheatleigh.com
Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires A grand spa retreat on 120 acres—ideal for cross-country skiing. The 100-minute Euphoria treatment is the ultimate winter remedy: a warm wrap in sage-scented towels, followed by a scalp and body massage and a dip in the hydrotub. Three-night packages from $1,462; 165 Kemble St., Lenox; 800/742-9000 OR 413/637-4100; www.canyonranch.com
Old Inn on the Green & Gedney Farm An 18th-century inn, two converted Norman-style barns, and a 1906 mansion dominate this 250-acre property in a tidy village near Great Barrington. The candlelit four-course Saturday dinners are legendary. Doubles from $175, dinner for two $124; Rte. 57, New Marlborough; 800/286-3139; www.oldinn.com
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Verdura The Tuscan menu is highlighted by wood-fired pizzas and handmade pastas (the chef-owner also makes his own mozzarella and gelato). Dinner for two $90; 44 Railroad St., Great Barrington; 413/528-8969
Bistro Zinc The best bar in the county, and quite the scene on winter weekends. The restaurant serves simple bistro food (wood-roasted chicken, steak frites). Dinner for two $70; 56 Church St., Lenox; 413/637-8800