My trip to the Berkshires began the day before I arrived. I attended a birthday party for a one-year old child, and many affluent New Yorkers were present at the outdoor, rooftop event, at which a friend asked me to have lunch with him the next day. I politely declined, telling him I would be traveling. He asked, “Where are you heading?” I responded: “The Berkshires.”
Silence immediately followed as several guests glanced at me with wonder, nostalgia, or envy. It was an interesting pause, as if the very word “Berkshires” conjured fantasies of an exclusive, high-end getaway most people yearned for. Many guests rattled off questions and even piped in, claiming the Berkshires was their favorite weekend escape. They shared their memories, favorite hikes and hotels, and soon enough, I felt that I had experienced a place I had never been to.
That’s the magic of the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. It has a reputation that precedes it, carrying the same ring of A-lister destinations like the Hamptons, and visitors who have been to the Berkshires long remember their experiences. The Berkshires has everything a traveler would seek in a vacation: luxury resorts, fine dining, art galleries, prestige and privacy, but there’s also sprawling nature and year-long outdoor activities. The Berkshires has served as a weekend getaway for famous faces, and many icons even own homes here (like Yo-Yo Ma and Meryl Streep). Celebrated New York restaurateur Mark Firth, who opened Diner and Marlow & Sons in New York City, even left the Big Apple for the Berkshires, and with a recent visit, I could see why. A leisurely drive through quiet roads in the unfurled countryside finds Gilded-Age mansions, boutique gems and, most famously, unobstructed, National Geographic-worthy landscapes.
Geologically speaking, the Berkshires are part of the Appalachian Mountains, and the collection of quaint and quiet villages and towns sprawl throughout the vast region. At 3,490 feet, the highest point in the entire state of Massachusetts, Mount Greylock is located in the Berkshires, and it serves an impressive backdrop to 91 miles of trails, farm-to-table restaurants, and excellent hotels. The Berkshires is a magnet to outdoor enthusiasts from New York and Connecticut to Massachusetts who hike in the summer and ski in the winter, but it’s also a destination one can enjoy the pleasure of doing nothing at all. Visitors can book a vacation rental and not see anyone for days if they prefer, which makes Berkshires the perfect place for a romantic getaway.
The Berkshires is a scenic destination that never changes. Hotels, museums, restaurants and attractions have been around for decades or longer, which lends to a familiarity that offers comfort. But travelers who have long visited will notice subtle growth in new luxury offerings. More notable chefs are debuting restaurants, and high-end resorts are opening. It’s necessary to have a car, since there’s a lot to see and do in this massive region, and a good place to set up camp is in Lenox, Massachusetts, home to one of the state’s most notable resorts: Blantyre (16 Blantyre Road, Tel: 413-637-3556. www.blantyre.com).
On the first day the resort opened for the season, I checked into the turn-of-the-century, 110-acre estate property. While Blantyre is one of the longest standing landmarks in the area, it was opened as a year-round operation with a destination spa in May 2005, and the rest is history. A Relais & Chateux property, Blantyre Country Estate is timeless and whimsical, known for its Gilded Age mansion that’s been transformed into a high-end resort. As soon as my friend Josh and I drove past the main gate, I was transported to another era. The grand and majestic estate felt like it could have been straight from the valleys of centuries-old Europe.
We pulled up the main driveway, were greeted by buttoned-up staff, and whisked inside a ravishing, sumptuous lobby. It’s visually compelling with high ceilings, antiques, modern furnishings, and an elegant adjoining parlor that felt like a set for a period drama. It’s not easy capturing something so grand and palatial in a photo, and the design is equally hard to forget.
The resort offers an outdoor pool (in season); an intimate, awardwinning spa; and Cafe Boulud, a fine-dining indoor/outdoor restaurant helmed by renowned Daniel Boulud. The sprawling green lawns and countryside backdrops have made Blantyre popular for gay weddings and events.