Exploring in the Berkshires
August 29, 2012

The Berkshires area in Western Massachusetts is known for any number of things: Mount Greylock, Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow, Edith Wharton’s home, beautiful scenery, the list goes on and on. My family has visited the area off and on over the years, enjoying concerts at Tanglewood, exploring the charming town of Lenox, going to the Norman Rockwell Museum---my daughter even attended a weeklong camp run by the Boston Symphony Orchestra---but on a recent weekend visit, we managed to find some new sights to explore.

One of our favorites was Naumkeag, a Trustees of Reservations property. This former Gilded Age mansion with its gorgeous gardens was once the home of Joseph Choate, a leading 19th-century attorney. The 44-room mansion or “cottage,” as wealthy families of the time called these glorious estates in the late 1800s and early 1900s, is now a National Historic Landmark.

The house, set high on a hill with views of Monument Mountain, was bequeathed to the Trustees totally intact, which means everything from the tools in the barn to hats in the closets was left. While the house is fun to explore (on a guided tour), the gardens were the draw for me. Kids can pick up a Quest, the Trustees’ version of a scavenger hunt, at the entrance and then be set free to explore, while you can take an audio tour or just wander on your own.

Among the surprises in store are the Blue Steps, deep blue fountain pools, flanked by four flights of stairs and a grove of white birches. Both looking down from the top and gazing up from below offer rewarding views. There’s also the Afternoon Garden, Tree Peony Terrace, Rose Garden, Evergreen Garden, and the Chinese Garden, among others.

When I met up with my daughter and her friend, we agreed we all loved the Chinese Garden. A stone table with stone chairs and stone “pillows,” a porch swing, and the Moon Gate (pictured here) make for a lovely and unexpected setting.

More Info
If you want to find advice on great hikes in the area, the AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Berkshires book is a great resource. There are numerous places to stay if you want to make a weekend of it, which I recommend. You can find anything from rustic spots like Bascom Lodge on top of Mount Greylock, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the ‘30s, to luxury resorts like Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club, which can boast of grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same landscape architect that planned Boston’s Emerald Necklace. So many places in Western, MA, have such a rich history and it’s a lot of fun to discover it. The Berkshires official travel and tourism website can help you plan a trip.

Have you been to the Berkshires? Do you have a favorite place? Tell us about it!

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