You’re a theatergoer who’s decided to make a trip to the Berkshires see a show or two. There are plenty of reasons why you might want to extend your stay. Here are some of them.
Simply driving around Lenox is a treat. Handsome homes line the streets and dot the hillsides, built in the mid-19th century as summer estates for wealthy families. Lenox alone had 75 of these lavish properties; many now operate as inns. Get a peek into the lush life lived behind those “cottage” walls on a tour of Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum (www.gildedage.org). Built in 1893 for J.P. Morgan’s sister Sarah, this Jacobean Revival-style mansion features hand-carved oak, a 90-foot grand veranda, and an expansive lawn. There’s plenty of beauty to behold, minus the gold leaf, at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary (www.massaudubon.org/pleasantvalley). Lovely in any season, the refuge is laced with 7 miles of trails that wind through meadows, wetlands, and forest, and up the slopes of Lenox Mountain. Stroll the boardwalk along Yokun Brook, where resident beavers have made their homes. Bonus points: The refuge is located near Chocolate Springs Café (www.chocolatesprings.com), an impossibly pretty little shop filled with confections (and excellent gelato) created by award-winning chocolatier Joshua Needleman.
Lenox has great spots to grab a full meal, too, including cozy Nudel (www.nudelrestaurant.com), with an ever-changing menu that relies on the bounty of local farms. Since you’re enjoying a weekend of cultcha, add this one to your list: Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio (www.frelinghuysen.org). The Bauhaus-inspired home and studio of American abstract artists Suzy Frelinghuysen and George L.K. Morris is filled with their works from the 1930s and ’40s, their Cubist art collection, and original furnishings. Currently on display is “American Abstract Artists — A Collection — Unseen Works” featuring 25 of their fellow artists.
It isn’t all about the arts in the Berkshires: The surrounding countryside makes a perfect outdoor playground. Pull on your hiking boots and ramble among 30 miles of trails within 11,000-acre Pittsfield State Forest (www.mass.gov). Landmarks include smallish waterfalls, streams, and Berry Pond, plus (in the northeast corner), a 165-ton boulder balanced on bedrock. Rather explore by water? The headwaters of the Housatonic River are located in Pittsfield, the beginning of its 149-mile journey into Connecticut and Long Island Sound; join the folks at Berkshire Canoe & Kayak Scenic Tours (www.berkshirecanoetours.org) for a guided paddling tour to enjoy the sights and sounds (lots of bird life). And you won’t find a prettier Tour de Berkshires than the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail (www.mass.gov/dcr), thanks to woods and water views. Gentle and smooth, this 12.2-mile paved, multi-use path runs between Lanesborough (north of Pittsfield) to Adams. For rentals, try Berkshire Bike and Board (www.berkshirebikeandboard.com). Need some eats for your on-the-road adventures? Guido’s Fresh Marketplace (www.guidosfreshmarketplace.com) is the go-to zone for gourmet goodies to go.
The Berkshires may be a long haul from the ocean, but that didn’t stop Herman Melville (who would be 200 years old this year) from writing “Moby-Dick” in a Pittsfield farmhouse. The property, Arrowhead, is a National Historic Landmark, open for tours; visit www.mobydick.org for details. If Hancock Shaker Village (www.hancockshakervillage.org) is on your list of must-sees, plan extra time — there’s plenty to take in, including a round stone barn, heritage breed animals, gardens, and trails. Exhibits interpret daily life of the Shakers, who lived here between 1790 and 1960.
This picturesque college town, tucked into the northwest corner of the state, sits in the shadows of the Taconic Mountain Range, bordered by rivers and rolling farmlands. It has a vibrant downtown, filled with cafes and coffee shops and farm-to-table eateries. Get a caffeine boost at buzzing Tunnel City Coffee (www.tunnelcitycoffee.com) before heading to the Clark Art Institute (www.clarkart.edu), known for its collection of French Impressionist, Old Master, and American paintings. The special “Renoir: The Body, The Senses” exhibit, featuring 55 works by Renoir, and other works by his predecessors, contemporaries, and followers, runs through Sept. 22. The museum grounds are gorgeous, too, 140 acres crisscrossed with nature trails and woodland views. Art and natural beauty also combine at Field Farm (www.thetrustees.org), a 136-acre nature preserve with gardens, sculptures, a six-room guesthouse (B&B), a historic house museum, and more than 4 miles of trails.
Spend time downtown browsing one-of-a-kind shops like Where’d You Get That (www.wygt.com), with toys, games, and gadgets, and Amy’s Cottage (www.amyscottage.com), with jewelry, clothing, and unique gifts. Getting hungry? The contemporary Mezze Bistro + Bar (www.mezzerestaurant.com) is a longstanding promoter of local, sustainable cuisine; try dishes like the heritage pig head and trotter ragout served with whey braised polenta, or the buttermilk fried chicken. The cozy and casual Water Street Grill (www.waterstgrill.com) serves upscale pub grub (craft burgers, meatloaf sandwich, and pulled pork with waffle fries), and has an impressive rotating lineup of artisan draft beers. Coyote Flaco is a delightful surprise, serving authentic, creative Mexican fare (www.coyoteflacomass.com). Save room for a scoop of locally made ice cream from Lickety Split (www.facebook.com/pages/Lickety-Split/104978482879375).
Stroll broad, leafy Main Street in this charming village and you’ll have much the same views as Norman Rockwell had when he painted the scene for his famous 1967 “Home for Christmas (Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas).” The famed American illustrator lived and worked here for some 25 years, drawing inspiration from the scenic setting and simple pleasures of small-town life.
Today, Main Street is lined with landmarks (the 1862 Cat and Dog Fountain, the King George III sign, and the 1881 Watering Trough) and historic buildings, including the sprawling Red Lion Inn, a former, pre-Revolutionary stagecoach stop. There’s a cluster of small galleries and shops to browse, and Laurel Hill, a woodsy public park in the Main Street Historic District, is a pleasant spot for a walk or picnic. Other outdoorsy places to visit: the Berkshire Botanical Garden (www.berkshirebotanical.org), with 15 acres of displays, including a historic herb garden and topiary garden, and Naumkeag, a Trustees of Reservation property and National Historic Landmark, with a Gilded Age mansion and acres of gardens (www.thetrustees.org).
The big attraction is the Norman Rockwell Museum, set on a 36-acre plot overlooking the Housatonic River Valley (www.nrm.org), with gardens, sculptures, and trails leading to the banks of the Housatonic River. The museum has the world’s largest collection of the artist’s work, nearly 1,000 original paintings and drawings.
The intimate Once Upon a Table bistro (www.onceuponatablebistro.com) is a good choice for lunch or dinner, with fresh sandwiches, small plates (try the Maine crab cakes or pan-seared veggie dumplings), and entrees like pecan-crusted trout and oven-roasted duck. For casual fare and live entertainment, check out the Lion’s Den Pub in the cellar of the Red Lion Inn (www.redlioninn.com). Before heading home, grab some sweet treats from Peace, Love & Chocolate (www.peaceloveandchocolate.biz).