In addition to lush greenery, there are more than 100 cultural attractions throughout the Berkshires, a geographic region that spans the northern and southern borders of the state. Most savvy travelers have heard of Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Mass MoCA, one of the largest contemporary art museums in the United States. But what about the area’s smaller, equally interesting destinations?
On my trip at the end of June, I set out to explore some venues that are easily – but should not – be missed. I chose to live in Lenox because of the interesting hotels, shops and restaurants – and because it is centrally located and would be the ideal home base. It’s one of many towns in the area where the words “picturesque” and “picturesque” jump predictably (but accurately) to mind.
Stockbridge, a small town in the Berkshires with a great artistic reputation
In an area of narrow, winding roads, finding Chesterwood requires navigating the narrowest and most winding. (Thanks, GPS.) The 122-acre property in Stockbridge is the former summer home and studio of Daniel Chester French, a sculptor best known for the “Minute Man” in Concord, Mass., and the seated Abraham Lincoln at Lincoln. The memorial, celebrating its centenary at DC Chesterwood’s historic home, will be closed until next year for extensive renovations, but visitors can view informative exhibits at the visitor center, tour the formal gardens, stroll woodland paths and enter the studio, designed in 1897 by French’s colleague Henry Bacon, a Beaux-Arts architect whose last project was the Lincoln Memorial.
Walking into the studio, with its soaring 26-foot-high walls and views of the garden and Monument Mountain, feels a bit like entering a sacred space. Diffused natural light bathes plaster models spanning the artist’s career, including poignant studies of his wife’s, his daughter’s, and his own hands, as well as the final seven-foot plaster cast of the seated Lincoln, whose rugged face is an inspiration for any scale. An unfinished marble sculpture, Andromeda, lies on its back, as if awaiting the artist’s return.
About a mile down the road, stone pillars mark the entrance to the sprawling campus of the Norman Rockwell Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of Rockwell’s art. The museum partnered with Chesterwood to produce “The Lincoln Memorial Centennial Exhibition: The Lincoln Memorial Illustrated,” which was on display through Sept. 5. The exhibition, which resides in two of the museum’s galleries, focuses on the work of contemporary and historical illustrators, cartoonists and artists who have used the monument as a symbolic element in their work, supplemented by archival photographs, sculptural elements and objects. Rockwell’s illustrations and paintings of the 16th president are in the mix; indeed, no other national figure appears in his work more often than Lincoln, whom he publicly called “the greatest American.” Allow time to visit several changing exhibits and Rockwell’s studio, tours of which must be booked in advance.
From the museum, it’s a quick drive to West Stockbridge, an area often overshadowed by its larger neighbour, Stockbridge. What this community lacks in size, it more than makes up for with its unique offerings. Two of the main streets in town are populated by mom-and-pop shops selling antiques, art, Shaker furniture and books. The Hotchkiss Mobiles Gallery is full of colorful sculptures—made in the sprawling adjacent studio—that hang among ceramics, glass, jewelry, and other crafts.
On Center Street, Charles H. Baldwin & Sons has been producing pure vanilla and other fine extracts since 1888, using the same recipes as the founders—using only Madagascar beans—and the same copper percolator and aging barrels. Visitors are apt to find bubbly owner Jackie Moffatt, whose husband’s great-great-grandfather founded the shop, overseeing the space crammed with baking ingredients, old-fashioned toys, candles and retro gifts.
For food, the public market serves specialty hot and cold sandwiches to go, or stop by No. Six Depot for hand-roasted, small-batch coffee; tea; smoothies; and sweet and salty snacks. Truc Orient Express Restaurant, owned and operated by the Nguyen family for 44 years, serves authentic, traditional Vietnamese food for takeout, including the local favorite, the “Happy Pancake”, a rice flour crepe filled with vegetables and your choice of shrimp, pork and chicken .
In Massachusetts, a coastal town that feels like home
TurnPark Art Space nearby, created by Igor Gomberg, a Ukrainian immigrant, and Katya Brezgunova, a Russian immigrant, showcases contemporary architecture and sculpture on the 16-acre site of a former marble and limestone quarry. The landscape of hills, forests, meadows and lakes is designed to be a place of exploration for adults and children. There is indeed an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ feeling to walking the paths and discovering amazing art – a colourful, glazed pottery village sprouting in the undergrowth; a life-size gold figure floating in the quarry — in unexpected places. Other works pack an emotional punch, such as photographs by Gomberg’s son, Dmitry, of Ukrainian refugees (shown inside Shami Shinogi’s “Eyeball,” a circular structure made of wood and sticks) and Victor Melamed’s “Collateral Damage,” which documents victims of current war with portraits and stories printed on fabric fluttering in the trees.
About 25 miles to the east, the area around the small town of Becket seems even more rural than the rest of the region, making it an unlikely candidate to host a prominent dance festival each year. Yet it does just that. After turning off Jacob’s Ladder Road and taking a long, bumpy drive along George Carter Road, I arrived at Jacob’s Pillow, a dance center, school and performance space celebrating its 90th anniversary this summer. Situated on 220 acres of towering forest and resting on the traditional lands of the Agawam, Nipmuc, Pocumtuc and Mohican tribes, the rustic site (affectionately called “The Pillow”) feels like a step back in time.
Aware of the pedigree of dancers past and present who have performed here—including Alvin Ailey, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Twyla Tharp, Ronald K. Brown, and Kyle Abraham—I expected a manicured campus of steel and glass architecture. What I found instead was a charming collection of weathered barns, sheds, gravel paths with lights strung between trees and wooden posts with signs directing visitors to performance venues, including the recently expanded and renovated Ted Shawn Theater, named for the dancer and impresario who bought the land and then founded what would become the festival in 1933.
For a sublime dance experience, nothing beats sitting on benches in a forest and watching a performance on the Henry J. Leir Stage. With its stunning backdrop of mountains and trees rustled by perfumed breezes, it perhaps best embodies the amalgamation of pastoral wilderness and the creative spirit found in the Berkshires.
Regis is a writer based in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Her website is necee.com.
Located in the heart of the city, this 18th century former farmhouse is a newly refurbished boutique inn offering 30 rooms with unfussy, modern interiors and indoor or outdoor dining. Rates from $167 per night.
Set on 22 acres of lush parkland landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted, the Italianate-style Gilded Age mansion is a Forbes five-star hotel with high ceilings, museum-quality art and antiques, fine dining, and a heated outdoor pool. Seasonal rates from about $700 per night in low season and from about $800 in high season, which is Memorial Day through October.
The Portico by Jeffrey Thompson
Set in a glass Italian portico in Wheatleigh, this eight-table restaurant serves multi-course menus created by chef Jeffrey Thompson. Contemporary French gastronomic offerings include sea trout, foie gras, lamb and Pointy Snout osetra caviar. Reservations are required. Open Thursday to Sunday, 5.30pm to 8.30pm; closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Four-course prix fixe dinner, $135 per person; six-course tasting menu, $185 per person.
8 Main St., West Stockbridge
Locally owned, go-to spot for build-your-own and specialty sandwiches, hot dogs and pulled pork on buns; available daily for takeaway. Grab a seat at the outdoor picnic table or pack a picnic. Sandwiches from $4.99.
Truc Orient Express Restaurant
3 Harris St., West Stockbridge
Family-owned Vietnamese restaurant offering spring rolls, BBQ pork on rice noodles, five-spice whole Cornish hen and its signature “Happy Pancake”. Vegan options available. Book in advance and eat on the outdoor deck or take it to go. Dinner Friday through Sunday, 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Appetizers from $20.
358 George Carter Rd., Becket
Full-service dining and cocktails in a tent on the grounds of Jacob’s Pillow. Two- or three-course prix fixe menus, with selections such as corn soup, a miso salmon bowl and steak frites. Reservations are required. Open Wednesday to Saturday, 4pm to 9pm for dinner, and Saturday to Sunday, 11am to 2pm for brunch. Prix fixe two-course dinner, $50 per person; three-course dinner, $65 per person. Brunch items from $12.50.
This restaurant and bar at the Whitlock Inn serves healthy breakfast options and tasty main courses. Open Wednesday and Thursday at 17:00 to 21:00, for drinks at the bar only; Saturday and Sunday, 8am to 1pm for brunch; Friday to Sunday at 17.00 to 21.00 for dinner. Cocktails from $12, brunch from $13 and dinner entrees from $19.
4 Williamsville Rd., Stockbridge
The site of the former summer home and studio of sculptor Daniel Chester French, who created the seated Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial. Open Thursday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through October 24. Guided tours available. General admission: $20 per adult, $18 seniors, $15 military, $10 students and young adults, and those under 13 are free.
9 Glendale Rd./Route 183, Stockbridge
A 36-acre campus with a museum and studio of the painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell, which presents the world’s largest collection of the artist’s work in changing exhibitions. Open Thursday to Tuesday, at 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General Museum Admission: $20 per adult, $18 seniors and retired military, $10 college students, and free for active military, frontline medical workers and more. (Check website for details.) Additional studio tours available for an additional $5 per person.
Charles H. Baldwin & Sons
1 Center St., West Stockbridge
Producers of pure vanilla and other extracts since 1888. This is the place to stock up on baking ingredients, retro toys, candles, greeting cards and misc. Call for hours.
2 Moscow Rd., West Stockbridge
Outdoor sculpture park in a 16-acre former marble and limestone quarry founded by Igor Gomberg and Katya Brezgunova. Includes a small indoor gallery and gift shop. Open Wednesday to Monday, 10am to 5pm. Admission is $10 per person, and those under 12 are free.
358 George Carter Rd., Becket
A 220-acre National Historic Landmark and summer attraction for dance with performance venues. It is also a school that presents world premiere performances, workshops, exhibitions and community events. The season ends on August 28. Ticket prices vary.
Prospective travelers should take local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Travel health information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel advisories by destination and the CDC’s Travel Health Alert website