BERKSHIRE’S CULTURE & CRANWELL RESORT’S LUXURY ARE UNBEATABLE COMBO

Easy to see how Mountains have been Muse to so many

By Karen Rubin & Eric Leiberman

The Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts have been calling to writers, artists, musicians, thinkers, creators for more than 100 years, and for all that time, the mansion that is at the epicenter of today’s luxurious Cranwell Resort, Spa & Golf Club in Lenox has been part of that heritage.

The 1894 Wyndhurst mansion built by John Sloane provides a Gilded Age experience for Cranwell Resort guests (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

That is what is so special about Cranwell, a member of the prestigious Historic Hotels of America. To be sure, it is grand and luxurious – the only Four-Diamond resort in the Berkshires – but even more significantly, it has that sense of place that makes a stay a unique experience.

With one of the largest resort spas in the Northeast that is a relatively recent addition and an 18-hole championship golf course that is of 1926 vintage, Cranwell, which is set on a 380-acre estate is a complete resort where you are pampered and entertained in lavish style.

But it is also a sensational hub from which to explore and discover the cultural treasures that abound in the Berkshires. Within 15 to 45 minutes in any direction -there is so much to do. It’s practically like having the best of the world come to you.

How to manage the competing interests to relax and unwind – even to sit in the Adirondack rocking chair on Cranwell’s Beecher Cottage porch, gazing over the manicured golf course to the mountains beyond – with the lure to get out and see and do? The answer is to extend your stay.

We take full advantage of Cranwell’s Culture in the Country Package, an ingenious offering that allows you to select two attractions from a menu of offerings for each night’s stay. What is more, two lawn seats to Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (these are normally $19 each) are included as an extra benefit, plus a full Country Buffet breakfast in the magnificent Music Room in the historic mansion. The package also provides full use of the Spa facilities (treatments are extra, obviously), including the use of a glass-enclosed heated indoor pool, whirlpools, saunas, steam rooms and wonderfully outfitted fitness center.

We organized our visit around the Tanglewood’s pre-festival offering, “The Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keilor.” Adding to the excitement of seeing performers we have heard and adored for years, this would be a live radio-broadcast (the 1,221st for Prairie Home Companion).

And so, shortly after checking in and getting a quick swim in the pool, we head out in order to enjoy a picnic on the gorgeous Tanglewood grounds before the show.

Just a few miles from Cranwell (we could have taken our bikes there), we join a long, long line of cars down the country road filled with enthusiastic fans like us (all very well organized by the local police).

Hundreds and hundreds of people sprawl out on the stunning grounds, and thousands more fill The Shed – a massive covered hall open at the sides – you have never been in such a large, yet intimate setting, with superb acoustics.

The devoted fans don’t even let Garrison off the stage after his traditional sign-off. More than an hour of “encores” follow.

The Tanglewood grounds are magnificent, and the best thing (regardless of whether you have bought seats in the shed or paid the $19 for a lawn ticket) is to bring a picnic. There are some benches set up in the back of The Shed, which are “first-come, first-served”. There is also a concession stand to buy food. (Tanglewood Festival, 297 West Street, Lenox, MA 01240, 888-266-1200, or visit www.tanglewood.org.)

Cultural Hub

Before breakfast the next morning, we explore the Lenox area by bicycle, readily appreciating how close some of these marvelous attractions are that we will be visiting later: the charming “downtown of Lenox” – basically a few streets with some pleasant restaurants and boutiques; Edith Wharton’s The Mount, Shakespeare & Co., and the Ventfort Hall, a Mansion home and Museum dedicated to the Gilded Age are all along a four-mile loop with some hills.

That is the warm-up for a delightful Country Buffet breakfast in the magnificent Music Room of Cranwell’s Gilded Age Mansion, built in 1894 by John Sloane. He was a relative of the Vanderbilts and co-owner of the famous furniture company, W & J Sloane.

We take advantage of the resort amenities – the indoor pool and fitness center, and the spa (Eric gets a Swedish massage) – before borrowing two more bikes at the Golf shop, loading them onto the car and traveling about 30 minutes to Lanesborough, to bike the 11-mile long Ashuwillticook Rail Trail. This was a former railroad corridor converted into a 10-foot wide paved path, mostly enclosed on both sides by trees but with openings along lakes and waterways, that runs parallel to Route 8 through the towns of Cheshire, Lanesborough and Adams.

Beecher Cottage, a Victorian jewel, is one of several guest buildings at Cranwell Resort (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

Along the way, you gaze at formidable brick buildings which used to house some of the early factories of the Industrial Revolution, now shuttered or converted to other uses, and witness the transition of America’s economic base. Where the trail ends (or begins) in Adams is the Berkshire Visitors Center, a beautiful new building that is directly across from one of these large, shuttered buildings.

On our way back, we stop at Whitney’s Farm Stand (about mile 6 from Lanesborough, where we began the trail), and picnic under a tree (there is a small petting zoo and playground there, as well).

The trail itself, which has changed in use from railroad tracks to a bike path, is a reflection of the change in commerce and industry and provides a context for much of what we see in the area.

So much of what we cherish now was built up in the “new” economy of the Industrial Revolution, and the Gilded Age mansions that followed were purchased with the profits from banking, oil, railroads and transportation and such.

Then there were the years of decline, as the factories and the mansion homes were sold off or shuttered. We notice that many of the historic sites were reclaimed beginning in the 1970s – with a new interest in historic preservation and the rebirth of the Berkshires as cultural muse and cultural.

As we travel back to the Cranwell through Pittsfield, we see an amazing Renaissance underway there as well, with many arts and cultural organizations (Barrington Stage Company, Colonial Theater, Leslie Ferrin Gallery and the Berkshire Museum, among others) and galleries taking up residence in new and renewed buildings, many grandly built in that Industrial boom, and the downtown physically transformed. (Pittsfield Third Thursdays, is a street fair held May through October.)

Herman Melville’s Arrowhead

At Tanglewood, one of 100 cultural venues in the Berkshires, a chance to see a live performance of "Prairie Home Companion", with Garrison Keilor and the Royal Academy of Radio Actors joined by actor Martin Sheen (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

We appreciate the transformation all the more as we see images of Pittsfield as it was in the second-half of the 19th century while visiting Arrowhead, the home of novelist Herman Melville.

It is fascinating to visit the homes of famous people – these intimate settings provide such context, such a connection to the creative process and a window into their soul.

His great work, “Moby Dick,” which he completed at Arrowhead, has made Herman Melville a household name, but his “backstory” that is connected to Arrowhead is worthy of a novel, itself.

Melville was born in New York City to a prosperous merchant, but his father went bankrupt when he was 11 and died two years later. After attending private schools and living a privileged life, Melville’s formal education ended when he was in middle school, and he had to work to help support his family.

He was 21 years old in 1841 when he signed on the whaling ship Acushnet and sailed out of New Bedford for a three-year voyage to the South Seas. The captain turned out to be a tyrant and Melville and another man jumped ship in the Marquesa Islands, where there were cannibals. He gets on another whaling ship where the captain was worse. The crew mutinied and was imprisoned on Tahiti, but they apparently escaped. Melville next goes to the Sandwich Islands and then joined the Navy to return home. On the naval ship, he saw sailors flogged for their offenses.

His adventures set the scenes for his early books, Typee, Omoo, Mardi, Redburn and White Jacket, and that experience, combined with a story he read about a ship, Essex, that was rammed by a whale, formed the basis of Moby Dick.

The adventure stories were well received, and Melville, who had spent summers at his uncle’s place in the Berkshires as a boy, bought Arrowhead rather impulsively, in 1850, going into debt. His idea was to be a gentleman farmer and live where he was most inspired to write. Indeed, the years he lived fulltime at Arrowhead, from 1850 to 1863, were his most productive, writing “Pierre,” “The Confidence Man,” “Benito Ceveno” and many short-stories.

Arrowhead was originally built in 1780 as a tavern – the rooms are enormous – and the centerpiece is a massive chimney that Melville adored and is a character in his short story, “I and My Chimney.”

But his writing was not appreciated – even “Moby Dick” – and he went further and further into debt (and depression, it turns out), and finally was forced to “trade” Arrowhead for a home his brother owned in New York City, where he worked as a U.S. Customs inspector and died in 1891 in obscurity.

It is clear that Melville had such a connection to the Berkshires. He built a porch (“piazza”) in order to sit and look at the mountains. His study has the best view of Mount Graylock, the highest point in Massachusetts, and his writing table where is positioned in such a way as to allow him to gaze out to the peaks. From this vantage point, the pattern mimics the shape of the back of a whale, and he kept the blade of a harpoon at the fireplace.

Even a rainshower does not dampen spirits outside The Shed when "Prairie Home Companion" is performing (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

He wrote in a letter, “I have a sort of sea-feeling here in the country… I look out my window in the morning when I rise as I would out of a porthole of a ship in the Atlantic. My room seems a ship’s cabin; and at nights when I wake up and hear the winds shrieking, I almost fancy there is too much sail on the house, and I had better go on the roof and rig in the chimney.”

It is amazing to be standing in just that place behind his desk, looking out the window and seeing the same view he described.

The Berkshires in this time also attracted other literary figures, and on a hike, Melville met Nathaniel Hawthorne who he considered a mentor.

The house remained in Melville’s family (his brother’s) until the 1920s, when the contents were auctioned off. It is surprising and immensely satisfying, then, to see many of Herman Melville’s own items returned to the house – including the trundle bed that was used for his children, his wife, Lizzie’s rocking chair, and paintings and images of family members as well as the farm in Melville’s time. We see a bust of Shakespeare, which he apparently used as inspiration, a telling symbol for a man whose formal education ended in the 8th grade.

It is the photo of Melville’s children, though, that crystallizes the experience. The oldest son, perhaps bearing the greatest brunt of Melville’s setbacks and depression, killed himself when he was 18; the second son was devastated by his brother’s death, never married and died at a young age; his daughter was sickly and became an invalid, cared for by her mother until she died. Only Francis, the youngest daughter, lived a full life and had four children of her own.

The docent, Phil Spear, takes out a copy of a note that Melville wrote to his children: to take care of Fanny when they go hiking up the hill, with a drawing to show how they should go: holding hands together.

Melville died in obscurity, but in 1919, the centennial of his birth, there was a rekindling of interest. In 1924, his book “Billy Budd” was published, and he began to be recognized as an important novelist. There was a renaissance of his work in the 1930s and 1940s, and at the end of World War II, as soldiers went to college on the GI Bill, there was new appreciation for the sophistication of his writing.

2000 marked the 190th birthday of Melville and the 225th “birthday” of Arrowhead. (Arrowhead, 780 Holmes Road, Pittsfield, 413-442-1793, www.mobydick.com)

Edith Wharton’s The Mount

Novelist Edith Wharton's 1902 estate, The Mount, is a clear window into her character (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

Similarly, The Mount, the home that was entirely conceived and designed by novelist Edith Wharton, is a fascinating window into who she was and the times in which she lived. It is also a stunning place to visit – a lavish 113-acre estate with formal gardens that she also designed.

The visit provides such insight into the woman who was the first to win the Pulitzer Prize (for The Age of Innocence) and the first to receive an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Yale University. She wrote her first novel at age 14, and wrote 40 books over the course of 40 years.

She conceived the mansion’s design herself, in 1902 when she was 40 years old, purposefully designing it as a reaction against what she regarded as Victorian “excess.” She advocated a return to classical virtues of proportion, harmony and simplicity, incorporating the architectural styles of Italy, France and England “wrapped up in a New England package.” She used The Mount as a “laboratory” for the principles she advocated in the book she was writing, The Decoration of Houses.

She called The Mount her first real home and spent the better part of a decade here, producing some of her most significant works, including The House of Mirth and Ethan Frome.

Most interesting is the Library, where a recent acquisition returned some 2,700 of her own books, with her own considered notations, so you see them in their original setting.

After 10 years of living at the estate, Ms. Wharton was forced to sell The Mount in 1911 after the collapse of her marriage to Teddy Wharton. She moved to France where she lived until her death in 1937.

There is a fascinating exhibit on her work in France during World War I, where she set up various charities for refugees and crusaded for the United States to enter the war to end the slaughter. There is correspondence between her and Teddy Roosevelt, related by marriage, who says that he wouldn’t have hesitated a moment after the sinking of the Luisitania to declare war and notes his disdain for Wilson, “the worst president since Buchanan.”

Have lunch at The Mount’s café, which commands a magnificent setting overlooking the formal gardens which Wharton designed.

These magnificent buildings have their own life after their owners. The Mount also underwent a fascinating chronology. It was the Foxhollow School for Girls from 1942 to 1976, then leased to Shakespeare & Co. from 1978-2001. The Edith Wharton Restoration, a nonprofit organization founded in 1980, initiated restoration work in 1997; in celebration of The Mount’s centennial in 2002, interior designers were invited to demonstrate the timelessness of Wharton’s design concepts by decorating rooms on the main floor according to her principles. The Stables, where there is an orientation center and a place for presentations, is currently undergoing restoration (The Mount, 2 Plunkett Street, Lenox, 413-551-5111, www.EdithWharton.org).

Museum to the Gilded Age

Enjoy the same view as novelist Edith Wharton at her estate, The Mount: have lunch at the Café that overlooks her gardens (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

From Edith Wharton’s The Mount, I bike up Route 7A, passing another Gilded Age mansion now turned into the famous Canyon Ranch Spa, up to Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum.

Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum ties together many of the attractions and structures that we see here, as well as in Newport, R.I., Bar Harbor, Maine, Lake George, NY, Palm Beach, Florida, and Long Island.

This magnificent Berkshires “cottage,” which was built in 1893 by Sarah Morgan, sister of the financier J.P. Morgan, has undergone and is still undergoing substantial restoration in order to return the mansion and grounds to their splendor.

The property itself has a fascinating history, beginning with a connection to Civil War hero Colonel Robert Gould Shaw who led the first African-American regiment of the Union Army (the subject of the film “Glory”). The mansion was also the exterior set for the film, “The Cider House Rules.”

Ms. Morgan built the summer house to entertain, so you walk right into the ballroom, the music gallery above. It has 15 bedrooms, 17 fireplaces, six bathrooms, a full-institutional kitchen, and once had a two-lane bowling alley. The grand staircase is unique to Roche & Tilden, the Boston architects, who built many of the Gilded Age mansions in the area.

The museum also offers a live entertainment, as well as exhibits. During our visit, “Paris 1890 Unlaced,” a one-act, one-woman play by Juliane Ham, starring Anne Undeland, produced by Ventfort Hall in cooperation with Shakespeare & Company, was playing, and the exhibit on view, “Something Old, Something New; 200 Years of Berkshire Brides” was a wonderful display of bridal gowns worn by local brides, over the centuries. (Ventfort Hall, 104 Walker Street, Lenox, 413-637-3206, www.GildedAge.org).

Norman Rockwell Museum

Our Berkshire cultural experience continues in Stockbridge, a charming village immortalized in Norman Rockwell’s painting of its Main Street, with the Red Lion Inn (another Historic Hotels of America member, where we have thoroughly enjoyed a stay), and the white clapboard building which for so many years, housed the Norman Rockwell museum (the founders bought to house to save it from being torn down to become a parking lot).

Indeed, this is the 40th anniversary year of the museum’s founding.

Our last visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum was at that charming white house; since then, which originally occupied a white clapboard house that would have been demolished for a parking lot, the museum moved to a sprawling 36-acre park-like site, with a Victorian era “cottage” (Linwood) on the grounds, dotted with bronze and stone sculpture by Rockwell’s youngest son, Peter Rockwell.

Norman Rockwell’s red studio, a converted late 1800s barn, was moved to the site in 1986, commanding a beautiful view of the countryside (I am sure he would have been pleased) and it is one of the most special aspects to the visit. You can’t get more personal than to see the studio, restored to the way it was on an October day in 1960, as documented in photos, when Rockwell was creating his iconic painting, “Golden Rule.”

This is intentional. Instead of depicting the studio as it was at the end of Rockwell’s life, the reinstallation of the studio is presented as an exhibit “A Day in the Life,” which opened only this past May, providing insights into Rockwell’s “working environment, influences and inspirations at a pivotal moment in his career and American society and culture.”

It was made possible by archival work carried out through Project NORMAN, a 10-year archiving and digitization effort that links the Museum’s archival materials with works of art and various periods ion the artist’s long career.

The objects and art are the same as Rockwell surrounded himself with as he was working in 1960, from the AM/FM radio that broadcast classical music, to the reproductions of works by Johannes Vermeer, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, and Pablo Picasso. I am particularly fascinated by his collection of art books – Dali, El Greco, Van Eyck, Monet, Degas, Corot, Winslow Homer – such a range. “He had such a wide range of interests. He uses them as inspiration,” the docent says. (The studio is open May through October.

“By the early 1960s, Norman Rockwell was widely recognized as being among America’s preeminent painters, whose works captured with uncanny detail moments of universal feeling found in everyday life,” said Laurie Norton Moffatt, Director/CEO of Norman Rockwell Museum. “Beginning in 1960, on his return from travels that took him to countries in Africa, Asia and Europe, Rockwell started turning his attention to issues of civil and human rights.”

The main gallery is amazing. The museum houses the world’s largest collection of original Rockwell art – some 700 – including many of his most beloved works. Most of us know (and love) Rockwell’s work through the flat magazine covers of the “Saturday Evening Post” and other magazine illustrations. But to experience first hand the actual paintings’ themselves offer the texture, the painting technique and the ability to see the extraordinary detail (to rival Vermeer and the Dutch Masters, certainly) that he meticulously constructed into the pieces, even though they would be reduced to a fraction of their size, is utterly thrilling.

That is the genius of Rockwell. He was able to inspire such an emotional as well as intellectual personal connection with us, with his disarming humor and wit.

Arrowhead, where Herman Melville drew inspiration for his writing (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

In one specially designed gallery, each of his moving “Four Freedoms” paintings are on their own wall. The paintings were inspired by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s speech and which Rockwell created on his own, and were used on a national tour to raise $132 million in war bonds.

The gallery talk we attend puts everything into context – how his later work focused on social issues which were too serious for the Saturday Evening Post, such as “The Problem We All Live With,” depicting a black girl being escorted to a newly desegregated public school by federal marshals (their heads not shown, but the tomato splatter against the wall is, which he did in 1964 for Look magazine).

In the lower level are covers of every one of the Saturday Evening Post magazines he painted, and a video documenting his life – how as a six-year old, as his father told him the stories of Charles Dickens, he would sketch them. He got his first commission at age 15, his first full-time job as an illustrator, for the Boy Scouts of America, at age 18 (a relationship that lasted nearly 50 years), and how in the course of 47 years with the Saturday Evening Post, since doing his first cover at age 22, he produced 323 covers.

He was proud of being an illustrator. With illustration, “The story is the first thing and the last thing,” he said.

Rockwell dropped out of school at age 15, but attended two art schools and throughout his life and career was a lifelong learner – that is shown by the art books on his shelves (he had a collection of 500 art books).

The museum also houses the Norman Rockwell Archives, a vast repository of the artist’s papers and reference photographs. We see some of these – how he posed models – and how amazingly accurately they were portrayed in the final painting. He would use as many as 100 photographs to prepare one painting

You get some sense of what it was like for him to work – he might have been juggling six or eight assignments at a time, all under deadline pressure (as depicted in one painting where he shows himself staring at a blank canvas with a note tacked on, “due date”.) That is why his attention to detail is so astonishing – the reflection of the restaurant in the chrome in the painting “The Runaway”, for example. And we learn on occasion he would deliver the painting with a note, “paint is still wet,” and in the painting of the boy sitting at a table in a train car, the pattern of the tablecloth is omitted from the front

It is one of the most delightful places to enjoy art – to see paintings that are like old friends, and to gain important insights – such as the symbolic similarities between the black and the white kids in the painting, “New Kids in the Neighborhood,” and the use of the color yellow, which for Rockwell symbolized “hope.”

Adding to the lovely experience is a terrace café, catered by the Red Lion Inn.

There is a new Art Zone for children and families, and admission to the Museum is free year-round to kids and teens 18 and under. A wonderfully produced “Family Guide” engages children.

There are also special programs for children and Families, including Sumnmer ArtClub, and Create Together: A Parent-Child Experience, and new Scout Programs.

(Norman Rockwell Museum, 9 Glendale Road, Route 183, Stockbridge MA 0-1262, 413-298-4100,www.nrm.org; admission is $15/adults, $13.50/Sseniors, $10/college students.)

There are other artists’ studios to visit in the Berkshires – Chesterwood, the estate and gardens of Daniel Chester French, who sculpted the Lincoln Memorial (4 Williamsville Road, Stockbridge, MA 01262, 413-298-3579, www.chesterwood.org); and the Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio, the home of American Abstract Artists George L.K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen, set on a 46-acre estate, where you can view their paintings, frescoes, and sculpture; experience their exquisite collection of American and European Cubist Art (92 Hawthorne Street, Lenox, MA 01240, 413-637-0166, www.frelinghuysen.org).

Cranwell: Part of History

A pastoral scene at Arrowhead, Herman Melville's home(© 2009 Karen Rubin).

The Cranwell Resort is seeped in local history (and so deserving of its membership in Historic Hotels of America).

The centerpiece of Cranwell’s sprawling 380-acre estate is a Tudor-style Mansion, constructed during this era of opulence between 1880 and 1920 known as the Gilded Age.

In 1853, Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, brother of novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, paid $4,500 to purchase Blossom Hill where the mansion now stands, ringed by sensational views of the Berkshires.

General John F. Rathbone purchased the property from Beecher in 1869, moved Beecher’s farmhouse to the side of the hill, and built a fabulous “cottage,” Wyndhurst.

At the same time, on the other side of the hill, U.S. Naval Captain John S. Barnes erected Coldbrooke (which the resort renamed Beecher’s Cottage and offers enchanting guest rooms).

It is in this Victorian jewel that we stay during our visit. The rooms are stunning. Ours has a fireplace and lovely views of the golf course and mountains, a marble bathroom, and the luxury amenities like flat-screen TV, coffee maker that are so satisfying to travelers today. The Cottage has its own porch that is so lovely with these wonderful Adirondack-style rocking chairs, and architectural features like fan latticework that are just so magnificent.

The next owner, John Sloane, tore down Rathbone’s Wyndhurst and Beecher’s farmhouse, and in 1894 built his own Wyndhurst, which is the mansion that we enjoy today. Sloane commissioned Frederick Law Olmstead, the famous landscape architect who created New York’s Central Park, to design the grounds.

After a brief stint as the Berkshire Hunt and Country Club in the 1930s, Edward Cranwell deeded the estate to the Society of Jesus of New England, to be turned into a private school for boys, which operated until 1975.

Today, the original grandeur restored, the resort offers 113 guest rooms and suites in distinctive settings – the Carriage House, Founder’s Cottage, Olmsted Manor, Beecher’s Cottage (formerly Coldbrooke), the Mansion (formerly Wyndhurst) and the newest addition, townhouses and cottage suites.

With its combination of elegance, charm, stunning setting, and luxury, no wonder that Cranwell is amazingly popular for destination weddings, as we observed during our stay.

The spa adds to it, – so popular for bridal shower, bachelorette getaways, couples massage

Cranwell’s championship 18-hole, par-70 golf course, designed by Wayne Stiles and John Van Kleek in 1926 on the site of the original Berkshire Hunt Club is scenic and challenging (the 7th green and 8th hole tee are especially beautiful). There is also a 58-acre golf learning complex with every possible practice area, a 10,000 sq. ft. indoor hitting center, and PGA instructors. (In winter, this becomes a fabulous setting for cross-country skiing).

There are four Har-tru tennis courts, and private and group lessons are available.

Cranwell embraces the best of past and present.

At the Norman Rockwell Museum, visit the artist's red-barn studio just as it was in October, 1960, when he was creating the iconic "Golden Rule"(© 2009 Karen Rubin).

Probably the most significant change in recent years is The Spa Cranwell, a newly built building with some 35,000 sq. ft. of spa and fitness space at the center of the property – that is accessible from half of the guestrooms either by glass-enclosed walkway or tunnel (making it a pleasure year-round).

The spa is just magnificent – with separate whirlpools and “quiet lounges” for men and women (equipped with freshly made coffee/tea, lemonade and fresh fruit), 16 treatment rooms, relaxing music, and its own caf�, a magnificent fitness center (headphones are even provided), and indoor 60-foot glass-enclosed swimming pool for lap swimming.

More than 50 different spa services are offered – Swedish, deep-tissue, pre-and post-natal, Thai, Aromatherapy, Warm Stone massages, plus a Trees Ritual Massage that incorporates guided meditation and combinations of essential oils; Aromatherapy Scalp Massage. There are also a variety of facials, Precision Treatments, Somme Institute Treatment (involving six highly engineered vitamins); body treatments including a Bamboo Sugar Scrub and the ultimate Grand Mosaic, baths, nail treatments, salon, and teen treatments including massage, facial, sugar scrub and teen training.

While women have long ago discovered the advantages of spa, men are relative newcomers but are no longer strangers, appreciating the holistic health benefits of the calming atmosphere, the New Age music, the pervasive tranquility. The resort environment is perfect for an introduction – there is even a “duet” room, where couples (or buddies) can have a massage at the same time – a popular way for men to get over their reticence of coming to a spa. And there are special offerings, such as a Gentleman’s Facial.

It may seem audacious in a way to have a spa almost around the corner from the famous Canyon Ranch, but while Canyon Ranch is a dedicated destination spa, Cranwell is a resort spa where you get to pick and choose and spend as much or as little time as you would like. The spa treatments can be a delightful accoutrement or may well be the main focus of a stay (especially if your significant other is a golfer).

The Fitness Center, which is a beautiful, light room filled with the latest equipment with a separate room for classes, offers personal training, teen training, body composition, seasonal outdoor activities including hiking, biking, snowshoeing.

With Cranwell such a popular destination wedding venue, spa visits are also popular for bachelorette parties and bridal showers, and the services of the salon – hair, nails, makeup – are available for the day of the wedding either in the spa or in-room. (Check the website for Spa Day Packages as well as Spa Stay packages.)

The summer season is likely to feature live entertainment: the summer we visited, the award-winning musical satire group “Capitol Steps” was back for the third consecutive time, performing 90-minute shows in Cranwell’s Olmstead Manor at 8 p.m. nightly (except Tuesdays). Guests can enjoy pre-show dining at Cranwell’s historic Wyndhurst Restaurant, in the Gilded Age mansion, or at Sloane’s Tavern, or enjoy a late-night dining after the performance at the Mansion, until 11 p.m.

A variety of packages are available: Spa Day Packages as well as Spa Stay packages, Golf Packages (800-272-6935, 413-637-1384, www.cranwell.comspareservations@cranwell.com).

All of the cultural attractions we enjoyed during our visit were offered in the Cranwell Resort’s Culture in the Country Package (rates start at $195 pp/night with two attractions tickets plus the Tanglewood lawn tickets, per night’s stay; there is no charge for children under 12 when sharing a room, but any admission fees for children would be paid directly to the venue).

Cranwell Resort, 55 Lee Road, Lenox, Massachusetts 01240, 800-272-6935, 413-637-1384,www.cranwell.comspareservations@cranwell.com; check the website for special packages and offerings.

So Many Attractions, So Little Time

Cranwell Resort provides perfect Berkshires bliss (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

Berkshires is truly a four-season destination – fall foliage is nothing less than spectacular, the mountain snow affords its own, spring is glorious, but summer is when the cultural and heritage offerings are especially profuse.

Within the Berkshires Region are some 100 culture venues, so it is no wonder that many people from our area are regulars. In fact, when you arrive, there is a list of “101 things to do in the Berkshires,” from Museums, Gardens and Historical Sites, to Outdoor sports, health and recreation, to theater, dance and music, to galleries, shopping and antiques, to special events.

But first, you can personally experience the mountain that served as muse to so many of these cultural creations.

Just north of Pittsfield is Mount Graylock, Massachusetts’ tallest peak, at 3,491 feet, which was so inspiring to Melville. You can drive up a scenic byway, about seven miles to the summit, with some 11 points of interest and various hiking trails along the way (definitely pick up the Driving Tour map at the Visitors Center, 30 Rockwell Road, Lanesborough, MA 01237,www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/mtGreylock/).

The historic Bascom Lodge on the summit is being reopened and offers overnight accommodations and meals from late-May through mid/late-October. The rustic stone and wood lodge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. It has private and group rooms for overnight stay, a large dining room for dining and an enclosed porch with wraparound windows with some of the finest views in the Berkshires (For rates and reservations call 413-743-1591 or email: john.dudek@att.net).

For further information, contact the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, 3 Hoosac Street, Adams, MA 01220, 413-743-4500, www.berkshires.org.

Monday, 07 September, 2009

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© 2009 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit us online at www.travelwritersmagazine.com and at www.familytravelnetwork.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including examiner.com, Huffington Post and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate and blogs at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at FamTravLtr@aol.com. 'Like' us at www.facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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