When you visit the Berkshires, you are in good company: authors like Herman Melville and Edith Wharton lived here, Nathaniel Hawthorne hiked here, musicians like Itzhak Perlman and Van Cliburn and conductors like Seiji Ozawa perform here, and artists and photographers haven’t let go of these hills for a moment. Every town seems to have a mountain to climb and a museum to visit – a good example of the spirit of this region, a mingling of the delights of the outdoors and the products of the inspired human mind and soul.
For the outdoor adventurer, Mt. Greylock looms large in the center of the Berkshires. It is the highest peak in Massachusetts, at 3,491 feet, and the lands around it have been preserved at great local cost as forests and summits to hike and ski and snowshoe. The Appalachian Trail marches up the slopes of Greylock, carrying determined walkers north toward Maine. Less well known are the many state forests also set aside here, more than in any other section of the state. Some of today’s hiking trails lead past cemeteries dating to the very beginning of European settlement of these lands, old farms whose fields have grown into forests once again, with only the sturdy stone walls still outlining what once was cultivated and treasured acre by acre. Rivers are narrow and clear and cold; lakes are small fierce ponds inhabited by fish and wild geese. Here the visitor is an honored guest, someone to shower with the pleasures that the locals already know so well. Bed-and-breakfast inns abound, as do larger inns and hotels where individuals devoted to this area have summered (or wintered) year after year.
The Berkshires Culture
The cultural richness of the Berkshires is most obvious to the south, in the towns of Stockbridge, Lenox, and Lee, and adjoining Becket. There’s Tanglewood, where the Boston Symphony Orchestra summers; Jacob’s Pillow, promoting dance that pushes the boundaries of creativity and movement; the Norman Rockwell Museum, and the Red Lion Inn, so intimately tied to Rockwell and to the writers of the past century. But along the northern edge of the region, the quiet grace and intellectual power of Williams College have steadily fostered attractions like the Williams Museum of Art and the forests where biologists are discovering the nature of the wildlife-laden forest canopy. Recent additions to the northern towns, like the Heritage Park in North Adams and the newly born MASS MoCA – the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art – are drawing fresh attention to an area better known for its dramatic railroad tunnel that killed nearly 200 people in the years after the CivilWar, and its rugged mill towns and hardscrabble mountain farms.
The Berkshires Orientation
Because there are so many mountains to climb, forests to explore, and sights to see in the Berkshires, it makes sense to divide the region in two parts. The Northern Berkshires reach from Williamstown and Clarksburg at the northern border (along with the villages of Florida and Savoy), through busy North Adams and Adams, into Hancock (where a Shaker village stands), Lanesborough (the main route to Mt. Greylock), and the quieter towns of New Ashford and Windsor. The Southern Berkshires begin with Pittsfield, the area’s large city; and include Lenox and Lee, where so many cultural attractions are; Stockbridge; the shop-filled town of Great Barrington; and the more rural locations of Monterey and Tyringham, Becket (Jacob’s Pillow), Otis, Sandisfield, New Marlborough, Egremont and Mt. Washington (with famous Bash Bish Falls), and picturesque Sheffield and Ashley Falls.
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