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Berkshires, Massachusetts

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Berkshires in the fall (Photo: iStockPhoto/Denis Tangney)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on September 15, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: adventure travel, Aeromexico, Air New Zealand, AirTran, Aix-en-Provence, Alaska, American, Arizona, arts and culture, beach, Charleston, Continental, Dominica, island, LAN, Lenox, luxury travel, Machu Picchu, Massachusetts, Mexicana, Molly Feltner, Oaxaca, Queenstown, resort, spa, sports, Todos Santos, Ubud, vacation package, women's travel.

You wouldn't know it speeding down the turnpike from Boston to New York, but Western Massachusetts' Berkshire Mountains boast not only natural beauty and quaint New England villages, but also world-class arts, museums, spas, and health centers that rival (and often beat) the offerings of the two metropolises it lies between.

Although rural, the area has long attracted artists and intellectuals—Edith Wharton, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Norman Rockwell all lived here—and thanks to their lead, the region hosts some of the Northeast's top arts programs. In the summer months you can attend daily outdoor classical, jazz, and popular music concerts put on by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and other artists at Tanglewood in Lenox. In nearby Becket, the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival features three months of performances by national and international dance companies. Top-notch theater is scheduled year-round at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield and Shakespeare and Company in Lenox. There are also many shorter-term arts festivals staged throughout the year.

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In addition to the performing arts, you can visit museums associated with some of the Berkshires' more famous residents. Try the Norman Rockwell Museum ($15) in Stockbridge, which has more than 700 of Rockwell's paintings and drawings, and the Mount Estate and Gardens ($16) in Lenox that shows off the stately home novelist Edith Wharton designed and built.

Lenox is home to two of the country's top wellness centers, including North America's largest yoga retreat center and one of the country's top-rated luxury spas. A former Jesuit seminary turned center for yoga, meditation, and wellness, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health runs yoga and relaxation retreats year-round and offers hundreds of two- to seven-day courses in healthy living, athletics, Eastern philosophies, mental well-being, and countless other topics. Retreats start at $160 per person per night, which includes yoga classes, three meals (made with local and organic foods), accommodations, guided outdoor activities and evening programs, and use of the center's hiking trails and lakefront beach.

To really indulge yourself, stay at the Canyon Ranch Lenox, which is built around a renovated 19th-century Bellefontaine mansion. Three-night packages start at $2,270 per person, which covers deluxe lodging, three gourmet meals, unlimited fitness classes and gym access, a personal advisor and health assessment, a $360 spa allowance, and guided activities.

Women-only tour: Kripalu runs several dozen Just For Women courses per year. Prices vary but start around $215 per weekend program or $400 for five-night programs, plus the regular daily retreat rate. All courses include special instruction plus the usual Kripalu inclusions.

Do-it-yourself: If you're not staying at Kripalu or Canyon Ranch and are looking for something more affordable, consider Chambery Inn in Lee, a converted 19th-century schoolhouse. Rates start at $89 per night.

A three-hour drive from either Boston or New York, the Berkshires are most easily accessed by air from Albany, New York. It's about an hour's drive from the airport to Lenox.

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