We fell in love with the Berkshire Mountains for the first time in late autumn when the leaves wore their finest gold, orange, and crimson colors. To celebrate a special anniversary, we returned in the summer, to experience the Berkshires when the gardens were spectacular and the air was fragrant with their blossoms; ah, romance, how lovely is summer in the Berkshires.
Although the Berkshires are wonderful in any season, there is something special about summer in the mountains; its lure has enchanted artists, writers, and musicians with its lovely siren song since the turn of the century. Novelists Edith Wharton, Herman Melville, Nathanial Hawthorne, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once called the Berkshires home; as did artists Norman Rockwell, George L.K. Morris, and Suzy Frelinghuysen; and of course wealthy financiers and industrialists, that included the Astors, Vanderbilts, Westinghouses, and Robert Warden Paterson who built opulent gilded age mansions used as their summer and autumn "cottages."
Summer Romance In the Berkshires
To celebrate our special anniversary in June 2010, Edward F. Nesta and I returned to experience the celebrated summer season in the Berkshires. We stayed at Blantyre, located in Lenox, Massachusetts, built in 1902, and nestled on 110 spectacular acres that was once the gilded age mansion of Robert Warden Patterson and his wife, Louise Fahys Patterson.
Owner Ann Fitzpatrick Brown lovingly transformed the aging Tudor mansion with its impressive gargoyles and leaded glass windows and opened the exquisite 19 room and suite luxury Relais & Chateaux country house hotel in 1981.
Driving up the long, sweeping drive lined with tall trees, we passed great expanses of pristine lawns graced with sculptures, stunning landscape gardens, and croquet and tennis courts that conjured up images of players wearing white. A hammock suspended between two immense trees inspired restful relaxation, and a sparkling pool invited, all this before we even reached the immense wood door leading into the Blantyre main house.
Blantyre Swimming Pool
Blantyre, large, imposing, impressive, and covered with ivy, with its turrets and towers, resembles a Scottish castle, which was Robert Patterson's intent, as he modeled his mansion after his mother's ancestral home in Scotland. In a word, it is stunning. A 1955 silver grey Bentley, a gift to Ann Fitzpatrick Brown's parents, Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick, completes the stunning ambience.
Blantyre, Lenox, Massachusetts
The hotel strives and succeeds at making dreams come true from its luxury accommodations of 19 rooms and suites where every detail has been thoughtfully planned out to ensure guest comfort, to its gourmet restaurant with cuisine by Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef Christopher Brooks and an award-winning wine cellar, to The Potting Shed Spa where pampering is de-rigueur.
Chef Christopher Brooks and Team
Over the course of a weekend, we experienced wonderful dinners at The Dining Room at Blantyre , beginning with the evening tradition of a pre-dinner glass of champagne, wine, or a cocktail and canapés served in the Main Hall, Music Room, or in warmer months, on the Covered Terrace.
Dinner in the antique filled wood-paneled dining room was gracious, the room softly illuminated by a chandelier and candlelight, with pink linens and attractive floral arrangements on the tables. Service was exceptional, as one would expect.
The Dining Room at Blantyre
In addition to the à la carte menu there is a three, four, or Five Course Surprise Tasting menu nightly. A few of the inspired courses that we enjoyed from Chef Christopher Brooks' tasting menu included sautéed cape diver scallop presented with quinoa, lemon, radish blini, cucumber coulis, and cucumber foam; Spanish mackerel with fennel, pepper, eggplant, crispy socca, and roasted tomatoes; and duck confit with seared foie gras, fresh black Mission fig, fig jam, verjus and port reduction.
Cape Diver Scallop
Their attractive Spa called The Potting Shed Spa has a diverse treatment menu consisting of massages, facials, body treatments, manicures, and pedicures. We celebrated with indulgent therapeutic massage treatments during our stay, and experienced the steam room, sauna, and the whirlpool, tried out the state-of-the art fitness equipment, and relaxed by the outdoor swimming pool.
Blantyre Greenhouse Hot Tub
Blantyre is everything that one would hope that it would be; with the exception that alas, one does have to leave at some point. Then again, returning is always that much sweeter.
16 Blantyre Road
Lenox, Massachusetts 01240
Daring to venture away from Blantyre, we drove to the town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts to visit the Hancock Shaker Village, which was a Shaker community from 1790 until 1960 and celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2010 as a museum on 750 acres of village, farmlands, and heirloom gardens.
Hancock Shaker Village Main House
Although familiar with the artistry and quality of Shaker furniture and design, its dovetail joints, oval boxes, rugs, and quilts, it was impressive to see a collection of their work in exhibit format. We also had the good fortune to visit during the Blacksmith Festival where visiting blacksmiths demonstrated their craft.
Blacksmith's Bill Scheer, Gretchen Burch, and Jack Huhnen
We walked through the interesting Round Stone Barn constructed in 1826, which is the only circular barn ever built by the Shakers, where there were baby animals including an adorable calf, piglets, and lambs. Naturally, I had to pet all of them. Each of the many buildings tells the story of the Shakers through furnishings, clothing, and exhibits.
Round Stone Barn
I love gardening, and the Herb Garden fascinated me as the pamphlet listed that there were over 100 varieties in the garden based on the more than 300 varieties of plants listed by the Shakers in the "Druggists' Handbook of Pure Botanical Preparations," circa 1873. Interestingly, "in the 1790s, the Shakers were among the first suppliers of medicinal herbs to the United States pharmaceutical market," and this business continued until the 1930s.
Consulting the herb guide, we explored the gardens and learned the medicinal use of herbs based on knowledge and folklore from the 1800s. A few descriptions of herb use included the use of the leaves of the Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum), a perennial, for cough, asthma, and pleurisy; and the leaves, root and seed of Burdock (Arctium lappa), a perennial, were used to treat gout, scurvy, and scrofulous. The flowers of the Marigold (Calendula officinalis), an annual, was used to treat cuts, bruises, and gangrene; and the leaves, root, and seed of Parsley (Petroselinum crispum), a biennial, were used to treat inspect bites, dropsy, and vermin in the hair.
Hancock Shaker Village is open for self-guided visits from April 3 until October 31 from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm daily beginning May 29. Admission is charged: Adults: $17.00, Young Adults (13 - 17): $8.00, Children 12 and under: Free. There is a special Adult admission rate of $10 on Tuesdays through Labor Day. Check their website for special programs, workshops, and lectures throughout the season to celebrate the 50th anniversary.
Hancock Shaker Village
1843 W. Housatonic Street
Pittsfield, Massachusetts 01201
Toll-Free: +1-800- 817-1137
Continuing our exploration of Pittsfield, we visited Arrowhead, the historic home of Herman Melville, (1819 - 1891) the American author of the novel, Moby Dick, considered to the "greatest piece of American literature."
Arrowhead - Herman Melville's House
Melville married Elizabeth "Lizzie" Shaw in 1847 and purchased the 160-acre property in 1850. He named it "Arrowhead" after the numerous Native American tools that he found while digging his garden. Melville and his growing family lived in the house built by Captain David Bush, once used as a tavern. In 1863, he sold the property to his younger brother and moved his family back to New York City.
Arrowhead - Bedroom
There are interesting exhibits in the barn, circa 1840, and highlight Melville's voyage to Polynesia, and his resultant short stories and novels. The house features wide plank floors and has many of the Melville family's personal furnishings, paintings, china, and writings that provide insight into the period and the live of Herman Melville.
Arrowhead - Dining Room
Arrowhead is open daily from Memorial Day Weekend (end of May) until Columbus Day (October) from 9:30 am until 5:00 pm. There are hourly tours from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. Tours are available off-season by appointment. Admission is charged. Contact Arrowhead for prices.
Arrowhead - Writing Desk
780 Holmes Road
Pittsfield, Massachusetts 01201
In nearby Stockbridge, Massachusetts we visited the 15-acre Berkshire Botanical Garden established in 1934, which is a lovely showcase for indigenous plants as well as those that thrive in the Berkshires. It is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the United States. There were diverse gardens to explore including a Daylily Garden with over 200 cultivars, Rose Garden, Herb Garden, Proctor Garden with old-fashioned mixed border garden and trees, Arboretum with native and exotic trees, Hosta Garden, Primrose Walk, Pond Garden, Woodland Preserve, Wetland Garden, Vegetable Garden, Lexan Greenhouse, Solar Greenhouse, Sedum Hill, Native Border, and much more.
Berkshire Botanical Gardens
We especially enjoyed the exhibit, "Living Stylishly in Nature: Re-Imagining the Humble Garden Shed," curated by Matt Larkin. The exhibit featured five garden sheds located throughout the gardens, designed by Annie Selke (Pine Cone Hill), Sarah and Peter Thorne (Thorne Furniture Design), New York City designer/architects James Shearron and Richard Bories, New York set producer Chase Booth, and Michael Devine of Michael Devine Home.
A humorous example was a whimsical shed with a twig-covered roof, red door, and three red and white polka dot toadstools. The interior featured mint green walls, a birch twig ceiling ornamented with hanging orange coral, a framed zebra print on the wall, a chair in one corner with a wood ottoman, and a pine needle floor. The exhibit runs through September 2010.
Berkshire Botanical Garden's Whimsical Sheds
Also interesting was the exhibit, "Sitting Pretty: Artists Reveal the Garden Bench as Sculpture" featuring 20 benches from six artists, Vivian Beer, Terence Dubreuil, Lisa Fedon, Jack Larimore, Douglas Thayer and Nico Yektai, curated by Joyce Nereaux. The exhibit runs through September 2010.
Sitting Pretty Exhibit - The Garden Bench as Sculpture
Berkshire Botanical Garden is open daily from My 1 until Columbus Day (October) from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm. Admission is charged. Adults: $10.00, Seniors and Students: $7.00, Children 12 and under: Free. There are special events throughout the season, check their website for details. In addition to the many gardens, there are special demonstrations, and plants for purchase.
Berkshire Botanical Garden
5 West Stockbridge Road
Routes 102 & 183
Stockbridge, MA 01262
Returning to Lenox, we visited Frelinghuysen Morris House and Studio, located on 46-acres, once the art deco home and studio of American abstract artists George L.K. Morris (1905-1975) and wife, Suzy Frelinghuysen (1911-1988). The house, studio, and gardens provide an intimate look into their lives.
Frelinghuysen Morris House and Studio
Born to wealthy families, George and Suzy married in 1935, spent their lives painting, and dedicated to art. George encouraged Suzy to paint and in 1936 and they became founding members of the American Abstract Artists. Their work can be seen in many prominent museums throughout the United States including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (George and Suzy), The Whitney Museum (George), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (George and Suzy), to name but a few. They were also passionate collectors of American and European Cubist art. A few of the many paintings that they collected during their travels were on display including works from Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Georges Braque, and Fernand Leger.
The house and studio are a combination of German Bauhaus and Art Deco style with geometric lines and glass blocks, which was quite radical for 1940. The house and studio remain as it was during their lifetime.
The foyer features an art deco railing by George, a large mural, George's abstract sculpture, and paintings by George and Suzy. The spacious living room features an Argentine leather tile floor, and George's frescoes on either side of the fireplace, which have purple reflective glass to bring the nature indoors, and the dining room features Suzy's frescoes done in royal blue, black, and white, on the dark charcoal walls. Also of interest was the set-in bar where bottles of Dubonnet, Begg Blue Cap Scotch, B&B, Courvoisier, and Laird Apple Jack, lined the shelves.
They lead very interesting lives, Suzy was an opera singer for the New York City Opera post-World War II until 1951; George loved to travel and learn about other cultures and people, which is catalogued in the exhibit Bombay to Bali in the black and white film that George made with brother to the Far East in 1934.
Frelinghuysen Morris House and Studio is open June 24 until Columbus in October. From June 24 until Labor Day (September), the house and studio is open Thursday through Sunday from 10:00 am until 3:00 pm, with guided tours taking place on the hour. After Labor Day, the house and studio is open Thursday through Saturday from 10:00 am until 3:00 pm, with guided tours taking place on the hour. Admission is charged. Adults: $12.00, Seniors: $10.50, Students with Valid ID: $6.00, and Children under 12: Free. Please note that there is a 10-minute woodland walk from the parking area to the House and Studio. A golf cart shuttle is available for those needing assistance.
Frelinghuysen Morris House and Studio
92 Hawthorne Street
Lenox, Massachusetts 01240
Fax: +1- 413.637.9790
Website : www.Frelinghuysen.org
The Berkshires are conveniently located 147 miles (247 km) from New York, 120 miles (193 km) from Boston, 36 miles (58 km) from Albany, and 258 miles (415 km) from Philadelphia, making it a perfect destination in any season.
Read other articles on the Berkshires in the Destinations, Hotels and Resorts , Restaurants, Chefs' Recipes, Spas, Luxury Products / Gifts , and Arts sections.
For more information on the Berkshires, please visit the Berkshire Visitors Bureau website: www.Berkshires.org.
For more information on Massachusetts, please visit the website: www.MassVacation.com.