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Trip to the Berkshires, September 6-8, 2013

Recently we had to make a run to Cooperstown, NY to bring Alex more of his stuff as he starts his graduate

program.  Since the weather was beautiful and we had a few days off we took advantage and stopped in the Berkshires for two nights.  This is a trip we have been talking about for years and just have never done.  I’m not sure why, but it was time to rectify that.

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Approaching The Mount

We arrived midday on a Friday in early September, a glorious day with bright sun and cooler temperatures, and proceeded directly to The Mount, built by celebrated American author Edith Wharton.  This was really the reason for the trip as Cheri has always wanted to visit.  She’s a big fan of Ms. Wharton’s work, and this was going to be a real treat for her.  The Mount is gorgeous, and the group restoring it has done an admirable job.  Like many of these mansions, The Mount had passed through several owners and was in a rather sad state of disrepair by the early 1990’s.  You would never know it now, other than the pictures and video of the before and after states, as the property has been returned to its original grandeur.  This is not a house like Marble House in Newport, which hits you in the face with opulence and then keeps in coming in bucket loads.  The

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View of the house from the French Flower Garden

Mount is more reserved, the materials are not over the top, and it comes across as a very livable space.  I also liked it very much.  We spent the better part of four hours taking both the house and garden tours, some free time to wander, and an enjoyable hour on the back patio with lunch and wine from their cafe.  You can visit The Mount’s website here.

If you visit do take the time to wander in the gardens.  They are beautiful, and it is the views of the mansion from the lower gardens that give you the perspective of the property as it was envisioned.  It is very much a house in harmony and integrated with its surroundings.  We also picked up a first edition copy of one of Ms. Wharton’s lesser

The Linden Walk at The Mount

The Linden Walk at The Mount

known works at the store, for surprisingly little money.  If you are a book collector make sure you check out the small selection of older volumes on the bookshelf in the back of the store, they are all first editions with most also first printings.  You won’t find The House of Mirth or The Age of Innocence there, but they do have a nice little selection of some of her others.

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A King suite at Hampton Terrace

Our accommodations were in Lenox, MA at the Hampton Terrace Bed and Breakfast in Lenox.  This is a very nice property located a stone’s throw from Church Street, which is where most of the restaurants and shops in Lenox are located.  There are a lot of positives about Hampton Terrace, and the biggest might be the owners.  Stan was incredibly responsive and informative and it is apparent that they really value your experience and want to hear if something is not the way you like it.  The pool is heated and open 24/7, which is really nice.  We stayed in a king suite, located behind the main house on the other side of the pool.  You can stay there, in the main house or in the carriage house. The suites come with a nice jacuzzi tub and a wet bar area.  There are a couple of nit picky issues we had with the room.  One, you can’t sit in the love seat and watch TV, that you can only do from the bed.  Two, the pedestal sink in the bathroom does not really accommodate someone who has to deal with a blow dryer and makeup.  A vanity with some counter space just makes more sense.  Lastly, there were a couple of minor housekeeping issues we pointed out before we left.  Judging by the way the owners seem to care about their property I can virtually guarantee you won’t find the same problems if you stay there.

The pool area

The pool area

Breakfast is a buffet and served in the main house.  There are large communal tables as well as tables for two and four in an adjoining room.  You’ll find some kind of eggs, meat and a carb entree offered along with coffee, juice, cereals and the usual suspects.  This worked well.  The location is perfect as we mentioned earlier, so after breakfast everything in the  area is within easy reach.  We liked the Hampton Terrace and would recommend it.  In general we’re more full service inn/hotel  people and don’t tend to stay in B&Bs.  This is a good one.  You can visit the Hampton Terrace’s website here.

For our full day in the area we hit several local highlights as well as spend some time in a neighboring town.  In the morning we visited the Norman Rockwell museum, which for me was the surprise of the trip.  I have never been a huge fan of Norman Rockwell, viewing him as basically a magazine cover artist.  Go see his work in person and that perspective will be shattered.  His work is more thought provoking when you are looking at the original.  Part of that comes from the increased

The Norman Rockwell Museum entrance

The Norman Rockwell Museum entrance

scale of the paintings, and some comes from the technique you can appreciate in the

An iconic Rockwell original

An iconic Rockwell original

original work that wouldn’t come across in the smaller reproduction of the magazine.  We saw many of the famous, iconic images everyone would recognize, but we also saw many other images that showed a deeper message or different perspective.  I left with a new found respect and an impression

Norman's brother's art - unexpected!

Norman’s brother’s art – unexpected!

that Mr Rockwell was indeed an important artist in not only the U.S., but in a far more general context.   They also had a visiting exhibit which featured many original sketches, drawings, cells and advertising material from Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which is really why we went in the first place.  I’m glad we did.  The museum website is here.  We strongly suggest you visit if you are in the area.

Following the museum tour we drove into Stockbridge for lunch, eating out on the porch at the Red Lion Inn.  This venerable inn is probably the most recognizable establishment

The Red Lion

The Red Lion

in Stockbridge.  My lunch special of mussels and chorizo was excellent. There are also a number of other restaurants and specialty shops along the main drag.  You can see a painting of this part of Main Street at the Rockwell museum, so it was cool to follow seeing the painting with a stroll of the actual street in Stockbridge.  We had previously dined in the inn’s tavern as well, which was also good.  On this trip we initially went downstairs into the Lion’s Den, and we suggest you avoid that area.  It is dark and dreary, with a strange smell and the feeling you are sitting in a damp basement.  Within a minute we both looked at each other and bolted for blue sky and sunshine.

Post lunch we went to Naumkeag, a beautiful estate in Stockbridge that represents another very livable house on amazing grounds.  Much like The Mount, this property’s gardens have been renewed through a large investment and a lot of work. One major difference is that this house was willed to the preservation society and came with all it’s furnishings and decorations intact.  This is really nice as you can see exactly how the owners lived inside the house.  Here the star is absolutely the gardens, and if you visit we suggest you get the audio tour and carve out at least an hour to stroll the garden rooms.  These gardens are much

Naumkeag from the lower gardens

Naumkeag from the lower gardens

different than at The Mount, and meander through different garden rooms with

The amazing Blue Stairs

The amazing Blue Stairs

numerous fountains and sweeping vistas.  You will also see

A very interesting stair fountain at Naumkeag

A very interesting stair fountain at Naumkeag

one of the most spectacular staircases on the planet.  Truly this is a special  place.

Our restaurant experience in Lenox was good as well. The first night we had dinner at Alta, a bistro like restaurant and wine bar on Church Street.  The menu is excellent, and I wanted to try pretty much everything on it.  We did have a couple of small issues that we shared with the owner though.  One was that the middle dining room is kind of in a transitional space.  I could see the big screen bar TV from my seat and it kind of pulled me into the bar feeling, even though we were not in the bar.  My other view behind Cheri was of the ladies’ room door, and that didn’t help.  Keep in mind that our table was the only one that would get this particular combination of vantage points.  There were maybe three tables that could have the TV issue. A three  foot extension of one wall could eliminate the bar TV problem quickly.

ALTA

ALTA

The food at Alta was very tasty and represented creative dishes well presented.  One issue was heat however, with Cheri’s fish not quite as hot as she would have liked.  My dish featured seared scallops which were perfectly cooked, however they were placed on a cold artichoke pesto that seemed to suck the heat out of the scallops.  I think the play of hot and cold would have worked well,  had the scallops stayed hot.  unfortunately they were pulled to lukewarm.  Everything was delicious however, and simply putting the pesto on the side might fix this issue.  Maybe some kind of clever insulating layer, as simple as a piece of lettuce, could keep the temperature difference intact.  We shared our comments with the owner and he seemed to take the constructive advice to heart.  Keep in mind these are relatively minor issues.  We very much enjoyed our meal and will return to Alta if we visit Lenox again.  This is a restaurant on the edge of being truly excellent.  Tidying up a few loose ends should do it. We recommend Alta.  You can visit their website here.

Or second night we had dinner at Bistro Zinc.  This is also on Church Street right down from Alta.  The atmosphere

Bistro Zinc

Bistro Zinc

is clean and modern in both the main dining room as well as the bar.  We had stopped in at the bar the previous night for a cocktail and an appetizer.  Both we good, and thus we went back to see if dinner was at the same level.  Our reservations were early, at 6:00 due to a show that night, so we were quite alone in the dining room when we started our meal.  The room slowly filled up during dinner.

Service was excellent, and we really have nothing negative to say about any aspect of our dinner.  Cheri had the Beef Bourguignon, and I had the Steak Frites.   Both were well done, nice and hot, and served quickly.  While the dishes at Zinc tended to be a little less adventurous than the ones at Alta, the overall experience is very good and we recommend the restaurant if you are in the area.  Their website is here.

Following dinner we drove all of about two minutes to the location of Shakespeare and Company, a Berkshires theatrical group that puts on very well done plays in a beautiful new building.  They were actually resident at The Mount for many years until moving into their new digs.  The main building is great, with a nice sitting area, a lounge and a very clean, modern feeling.  We were there for ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane” and it was wonderfully acted.  This was a great way to end our visit.  Their website is here.

All in all this was an excellent weekend.  We did a lot of fun and interesting things, had some very good meals, and enjoyed the B&B.  We can nitpick anything, and that is really what our criticism’s are here.  If you have never been to the Berkshires we definitely recommend it.  We also recommend early September, because the weather was spectacular (not that we guarantee the same for you).  Lenox and Stockbridge, MA are right off the Mass Pike at Exit 2.  Most of the attractions are within a 15 minute car ride of each other.

A votre sante!

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