“Do you think we could get Dominos to bring us a pizza out here?” said the man in the hot tub at the Red Lion Inn. He had a point. It was beyond pleasant to sink into the steaming, bubbly tub as snowflakes swirled around us. The weather: just cold enough to keep our wine chilled at the edge of the Jacuzzi. But pizza didn’t materialize, so we grabbed for our robes and sprinted into the inn, hoping our warm, wet feet wouldn’t stick to the ice like Flick’s tongue on that frozen flagpole in “A Christmas Story.”
If you’re looking for a place to unwind and get over family jet lag (yes, it’s a thing) or detox after the holiday madness, we’d suggest an outdoor hot tub, turned up to the max, with all its jets firing. We’d also recommend the Berkshires. While cultural mainstays like Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow are closed for the season, these rolling hills and tiny villages are enchantingly lovely, and easier to appreciate minus the crowds. Even if you’re a winter hater, you’ll find something to like in the Berkshires, a medley of all the good bits, like snug pubs with wood-burning fireplaces, clam chowder with a hint of bacon, and forest trails blanketed in white. The average snowfall in the Berkshires is around 66 inches annually, compared with Boston’s 48 inches. As this piece is being written, Stockbridge is getting buried in one to two feet of white stuff. In Boston, it’s raining.
A bonus: When the snow piles up, so do the deals. Winter is low season at most of the inns in the Berkshires (obvious exceptions are at ski mountains). A cozy — dare we say, romantic — winter escape and a bargain? Yes, please. With our significant others, we headed west to check it out.
For winter guests with romance on their minds, several inns offer “date night” packages with add-ons like dining vouchers and wine. For our escape, we chose the Red Lion Inn (www.redlioninn.com) in Stockbridge, enticed by that hot tub and the heated outdoor pool. While this sprawling inn has expanded several times since it first opened as a tavern in 1773, it still manages to feel intimate. Fireplaces are everywhere — we even saw a (non-working) one in a stall in the ladies’ room. Antique settees, old photographs, and teapots galore (saved when a fire gutted the building in 1896) create a homey, retro feel. Even in the dead of winter, the inn has a lively buzz, and a hole-in-the-wall pub where there’s live music nearly every night. The Red Lion’s date night package includes a $50 dining voucher, a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates; rates start at $210 per room, midweek.
If your taste runs to more sleek and modern,’ consider a date night sleepover at Hotel on North in Pittsfield (www.hotelonnorth.com), named one of Architectural Digest’s “favorite new American hotels” in 2015. Part of the same hotel group as the Red Lion Inn, they offer a similar package: a $50 dining voucher for their on-site Eat on North restaurant, and a bottle of wine. Rates start at $195 per night, midweek.
In Lenox, the c. 1897 Hampton Terrace Inn (www.hamptonterrace.com) in Lenox offers a “classic romance package” that includes a $75 dinner voucher for nearby Nudel restaurant, a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne and a sampler of chocolates from local purveyor Chocolate Springs, plus a buffet breakfast the next day. The package represents a 20 percent savings over typical room rates, but it’s only good on weeknights (through March). Rates start at $249. For more winter lodgings deals, check out www.berkshires.org.
Up north, in Williamstown, the Williams Inn (www.williamsinn.com) offers a sweet deal for those who want to visit the Clark Art Institute with their sweetie this winter. Their “Winter at the Clark” package includes two adult tickets to the Clark (typically $20 apiece) and a daily breakfast; room rates start at $150.
Get your outdoorsy on
Summon up that childlike “snow day!” exuberance and revel in the snowy playground that is the Berkshires. Of course, there’s downhill skiing at Jiminy Peak in Hancock (www.jiminypeak.com), but our favorite thing at the resort is the mountain coaster that runs after the lifts close (3-7 p.m. during ski season). $7 gets you a single, adrenalin-spiked ride, but you’ll want two ($12 per person). And something we discovered this year at Jiminy Peak: They’ve got snowshoe trails near the western border of the resort, marked with icons. Snowshoe in a 3.5-mile loop around the perimeter of the resort and then settle in for a warm beverage at Hendrick’s Summit Lodge, surrounded by views of the Jericho Valley and Mount Greylock (your next screensaver image?)
Snowshoe hikes abound in the Berkshires, from gentle meanders to straight-up mountain treks. In the easy-going category, Mass Audubon’s Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary (www.massaudubon.org) in Lenox offers an enchanting seven-mile web of trails that traverse frozen beaver ponds through a northern hardwood forest. Set on the eastern slope of Lenox Mountain, this 1,400-acre property is also a good place for winter birding.
Looking for a more challenging day o’ fun? Tackle the highest point in the state, Mount Greylock (3,491 feet), on snowshoes. We like Gould Trail, on the east side of the mountain, for its frozen waterfalls and lack of snowmobiles (this strenuous trail is snowshoe-only). To choose a trail that best suits your abilities, check out the Mount Greylock State Reservation Trail Map (the winter use version) and the hiking trail descriptions at www.mass.gov.
When it comes to winter romance, there’s nothing like a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Even our equine-averse companion had to admit, it was pretty wonderful to snuggle under a blanket and go dashing through the snow at Sweet Brook Farm in Williamstown (www.sweetbrookfarm.com). A 45-minute sleigh ride is $18 per person, which includes a stop in a cabin for hot chocolate; reservations are required.
Pretend it’s Valentine’s Day
Two of the best things about adulthood: good wine and exquisite chocolate. At Peace, Love & Chocolate in Stockbridge, www.peaceloveandchocolate.biz, they source their confections from small artisan chocolatiers. Try one of their sample bits, say a chocolate-dipped fig, before you commit.
Then there’s Chocolate Springs Café (www.chocolatesprings.com) in Lenox, where award-winning chocolatier Joshua Needleman creates sumptuous treats that look like miniature pieces of art. We always make a stop here en route to the Mass Audubon Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, located just down the street. Sure, you could eat granola on the trail, but why would you, when there are dulce de leche bonbons to be had?
For a romantic meal, consider Alta Restaurant & Wine Bar (www.altawinebar.com), a French bistro in Lenox known for hearty fare like seared beef tenderloin with parsnip puree and grilled salmon with polenta fries (dinner entrees from $22). Tucked into a pedestrian alley off Main Street in Stockbridge, Once Upon a Table (www.onceuponatablebistro.com) has only 11 tables, creating an intimate atmosphere to enjoy crab cakes, trout, and other rave-worthy entrees (from $21). Both spots are open for lunch, too.
It always feels like a celebration in the main dining room at the Red Lion Inn (www.redlion.com). Crystal chandeliers, antique china, and pewter lend an Olde New England ambience, and the menu leans toward the traditional, too. Think roast native turkey (the kitchen goes through 21 tons of turkey each year) and filet mignon. And you can’t go wrong with clam chowder. (Dinner entrees from $26; open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.) In the less-spend-y-but-totally-awesome-category, we love Baba Louie’s Pizza (www.babalouiespizza.com) in Great Barrington. Wondrous sourdough crust pizzas (from $13 for a 14-inch pie) and great salads land this one on the must-eat list.
Hot tubs, hearty eats, snowy trails, and sleigh rides — not a bad recipe for winter fun. Warm up to the glories of winter, Berkshires-style, and you’ll be ready to face whatever else Mom Nature dishes out this season.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.