The Berkshire Mountain area of western Massachusetts is a prime getaway during the cooler months, starting with striking foliage and pumpkin festivals and continuing with sparkling Christmas lights and celebrations. During the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, the area was known as a retreat for wealthy American tycoons and famous artists.
Today, the quintessential small New England towns that comprise the Berkshires attract outdoor lovers, wellness devotees and culture seekers, transforming into a winter wonderland when the snow begins. While many of the Berkshires’ popular cultural institution are closed due to Covid, there’s plenty to do to satisfy all ages. Be sure to pack your cold-weather gear and some sturdy walking shoes.
The Berkshires’ acclaimed farm-to-table cuisine takes on a different cast during the holiday period, with restaurants emphasizing root vegetables, hearty proteins and holiday treats.
Modeled after a Berkshire country home, the upscale-yet-rustic CafeADAM is a welcoming space with an ever-changing menu of farm-to-table choices. During the holidays, seasonal inspirations find their way into cocktails as well as mains and appetizers. Crowd favorites like seared Cape Cod scallops and Korean BBQ pork ribs pair well with Vermont cider and local beer on tap.
John Andrews Farmhouse Restaurant, South Egremont
In a setting marked by woods and landscaped gardens, John Andrews Farmhouse Restaurant is a Berkshires delight. The restaurant sits in a structure dating from the late 1700s on the original farmstead. An outdoor fire pit invites diners to enjoy a relaxing cocktail even in the coldest of temperatures. The menu epitomizes the farm-to-table concept, with seasonal ingredients sourced from local farms and food artisans. Chef Dan Smith’s focus is one of taste-of-place dining, ensuring that you have a truly Berkshires experience with a menu built around regional producers of the moment. Leave room for the sunshine kabocha squash pudding cake with ginger ice cream and maple butter, a worthy winter dessert built off the bounty of the season.
Old Inn on the Green, New Marlborough
Once a stagecoach relay station, the Old Inn on the Green hearkens back to New England’s past, using only candles and fireplaces to light its private dining rooms. Changing daily and determined by the day of the week, an a la carte or prix fixe menu is offered along with a special Chef’s Tasting Menu. Reserve a table here for an evening of retro romance.
Café Boulud at Blantyre , Lenox
Michelin-starred Chef Daniel Boulud continues his successful residency at the luxurious Blantyre country manor. Using fresh and local ingredients, Boulud offers seasonal French classics with a New England twist. The setting is Berkshires Gilded Age, with the Tudor-style Blantyre “cottage” decked out with proper holiday regalia and seasonal plantings, and the dining room as formal as you’ll ever find in the Berkshires. Dress your best for one of the area’s finest dining experiences. On Thanksgiving, the restaurant’s three-course prix fixe dinner includes pumpkin soup with gruyère espuma and Berkshire turkey with shallot-rosemary gravy.
There’s no shortage of activities to fill your days and nights in the fall and winter.
An annual sellout, Winterlights is an illuminated wonderland of thousands of lights at Stockbridge’s Naumkeag, a 44-room Gilded Age “cottage” with stepped gardens. Trees are covered with shimmering holiday lights of many colors and overhead balloons and other lit designs wow visitors of all ages. Timed tickets are required for the outdoor experience and must be purchased in advance.
Children will love the train ride between Adams and North Adams in the Berkshire Hills of western Hoosac Valley. From restored 100-year old coaches, families will explore the rich railroad history of the region in the hour-long excursion. Trains depart from Adams on weekends and reservations are required.
Pittsfield’s living history museum is beautiful in the winter months. The twenty historic buildings and numerous walking trails offer a deep dive into the simplicity and quality of Shaker life from the 1780s to the mid-20th century. The collection introduces visitors to the farms, artisans and distinctive furniture and textiles of this religious sect.
Seasonal events include:
The Village’s Holiday Market on Saturdays from Thanksgiving through December 19 gives visitors a chance to buy goods including hand-knit mittens, distinctive jewelry, clothing, bath products and toys, all from regional artisans.
On Saturday, December 12, the annual Hancock Holidays invites visitors to decorate cookies and make ornaments. Artisan demos, a gingerbread contest, story time with Santa (registration required), a visit with the animals in the barn, caroling and Shaker talks are scheduled throughout the day.
The celebration continues on December 31 with the Hibernation Celebration and its artist demonstrations, workshops and talks; s’mores over the fire; and a kids’ countdown to the end of the year. A Tree of Hope encourages visitors to write a wish for 2021 and hang it on the tree.
Monday, November 30, 2020 through Sunday, January 3, 2021
Also in Pittsfield, this year’s version of the annual festival invites visitors and locals to explore tales from the Berkshires. Dive into the history of the first recorded baseball game, learn about the famous figures from the area and investigate rumors of mysterious sightings with a collection of bright and colorful winter displays spread across the city and surrounding communities.
The Mount, Lenox
Sign up online for a self-guided holiday house tour of The Mount, the home of author Edith Wharton, adorned with festive decorations provided by the Lenox Garden Club. The “cottage,” designed by the author herself and built in 1902, reflects Wharton’s theories about classic European architecture, adapted for an American landscape. Advance reservations are required to visit the Main House. Plan to spend some time exploring the beautiful grounds of the estate.
Special Saturday events include winter story time on November 30, paper ornament making on December 7, and a holiday concert on December 21.
The Mount’s newest holiday program is offered Thursdays – Sundays from November 19 – January 3.
An evening event, NightWood is a sound and light experience that transforms the property into a fantastical winter landscape for the holidays. Inspired by the natural beauty and architecture of The Mount, NightWood immerses visitors in a series of vignettes designed to evoke elements of fantasy, tradition and whimsy. Advance timed tickets are required.
Arrange to tour another Gilded Age mansion, Ventfort Hall, an imposing Jacobean Revival-style mansion built in 1893 for Sarah Morgan, the sister of J. P. Morgan. The Museum of the Gilded Age interprets the great changes that occurred in American life, industry and society during the nineteenth century. Reservations are required for self-guided tours.
MASS MoCA , North Adams
Recently portrayed in the documentary Museum Town, MASS MoCA is a distinctive setting for evocative art. In a sprawling complex of former 19th-century mill buildings, the art center has vast galleries, performing arts venues and both permanent and purpose-built exhibits by innovative artists. An elaborate system of interlocking courtyards and passageways connect the 26 buildings. Saved from more than a decade of disuse in a Herculean effort to revive the town’s lagging economy, the complex was previously a textile factory and most recently the home of the Sprague electric company.
Norman Rockwell Museum , Stockbridge
With its nostalgic depictions of life through illustration by Berkshires resident Norman Rockwell, the Norman Rockwell Museum offers an enjoyable visit for all ages. Adults will appreciate the social commentary as espoused in Rockwell’s art. The current Imagining Freedom exhibit is especially relevant today and explores the basic human freedoms of speech and worship, and freedom from want and fear. Rockwell’s Four Freedoms is exhibited along with works from artists working for the cause of freedom. The most popular cultural attraction in the Berkshires, the museum requires advance purchase of timed tickets.
Clark Art Institute , Williamstown
One of the country’s most acclaimed small museums and a pioneer in children’s programming, The Clark Art Institute offers indoor art exhibits as well as outdoor installations. The museum is noted for its collections of Impressionist, American and other art. Book timed tickets online with admission free on the First Sunday of the month.
A special musical event on December 5 and a Start with Art day for preschoolers with a take-home art-making kit on December 12 are scheduled for holiday vacation time.
The museum takes advantage of its 140 acres, offering Project Snowshoe for outdoor art exploration and trail walks. Grab a pair of snowshoes from the snowshoe hut (multiple sizes available) and experience the outdoor exhibition Ground/Work.
For more hiking and snowshoeing, the follow resources can provide guidance for trails in the Berkshires:
Laurel Hill Association – Stockbridge
Pleasant Valley – Lenox
Download this app for complete information https://www.bnrc.org/bnrc-trails-app/
Wellness is a key watchword in the Berkshires, no matter what season. During the holiday months, you can retrench with fitness and spa activities both indoors and outdoors.
Miraval in the Berkshires, Lenox
Newly opened in the Berkshires, Miraval is known for its fitness and wellness focus. Activities including aerial yoga, horse whispering, hiking, biking, stargazing and snowshoeing make for a diverse and indulgent experience at the expansive property. Spa programming is an integral part of the Miraval journey, combined with a culinary emphasis on balance. For an evening to remember, Miraval invites guests to book a private dining session in the Life in Balance Culinary Kitchen.
To help visitors rejuvenate and de-stress, Canyon Ranch offers life-enhancing “pathways,” curated wellness programs of varying lengths. During the winter, gingerbread houses decorate the Bellefontaine Mansion and special dance weekends add a fun way to keep you moving. For Chanukah, the Ranch will hold a nightly menorah lighting. If the weather cooperates, the Ranch’s beautiful grounds are the perfect place for cross-country skiing and snow shoeing. Indoor squash, tennis, racquetball and basketball courts complement the daily fitness classes and holistic spa treatments.
Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge
When the cold weather hits, the historic Red Lion Inn looks like it stepped out of Norman Rockwell’s painting of Main Street in Stockbridge, Home for Christmas. One of only a few American inns operating continuously since before 1800, The Red Lion appeals to Americana buffs with its decorated Rockwell-esque front porch and holiday carolers regaling guests on the steps. Indoors, live Christmas trees, Christmas kissing balls, poinsettias, yards of garland and handmade wreaths on every guestroom door create the holiday mood. For much of December pianists and harpists play holiday favorites in the lobby.
Wheatleigh , Lenox
On 22 acres overlooking the Berkshire Mountains and lake, five-star Wheatleigh is a Berkshires treasure. Built in 1893, the 19-room Italianate mansion offers privacy and seclusion. Wheatleigh caters to a refined clientele with a museum-like setting appointed with antiques, architect-designed furnishings and original contemporary art. Dining during the holiday period is limited to overnight guests, and a full “palazzo” buyout can be had for up to 25 people.
The Gilded Age is alive and well at Blantyre in Lenox. A Tudor-style mansion and estate built in 1902, Blantyre is a member of the elite Relais & Châteaux consortium. In an oft-photographed setting, the luxury resort features a range of elegant guest accommodations, a spa and Daniel Boulud’s legendary French cuisine. A must-see, the baronial Main Hall is a showcase of period pieces, heirlooms and art. Guests are invited to explore Blantyre’s 100 acres of lawns and woodlands or snowshoe the resort’s own trails that hug the perimeter. Other seasonal activities can be arranged by the concierge, with an on-property Christmas tree lighting one of the most popular events.
Devonfield Inn, Lee
An English-Style country house originally built in the early 1800’s, Devonfield Inn overlooks a meadow shaded by birch trees against a backdrop of rolling hills. Indoor and outdoor holiday decorations set the tone for the festive period at the B&B. Popular activities are cross-country skiing on Devonfield’s extensive grounds as well as a program for winter horse riding with HorseWorks Farm. Thanksgiving dinner is offered for guests. Charm and coziness are felt throughout with the inn’s owners adding thoughtful touches like a stocked guest pantry and complimentary cognac and cordials.