Break out the smelling salts and cordials, Carson, because Gilded Age fever has swept America, thanks to Downton Abbey and its gold-leafed ilk. In Berkshire towns like Lenox and Stockbridge, cultural icons like novelist Edith Wharton and ultra-wealthy families like the Morgans (as in J.P.) spent at least part of the year nestled among the natural beauty of this region, and built luxurious homes to accommodate their lifestyles.
Surrounded by all this opulence, you’ll want to start with your own little bit of luxury, which you’ll find at the newly opened Maple Glen guesthouse at the iconic and sprawling Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. Unlike the rest of the Inn, awash in traditional Colonial design, Maple Glen is like the cherry on top of a sundae: sweet, simple, and colorful. Clean lines, open spaces, and a light Colonial feel mix with funky fabric headboards and a gallery of backlit vintage planters. In the evening, enjoy excellent Martinis in rocking chairs on the porch at the main inn before a meal in the Main Dining Room. It’s enough to make you want to ring for the butler and commend him on a job well done.
To get a true sense of the Gilded Age, you must visit The Mount in Lenox (edithwharton.org). In addition to writing novels like The Age of Innocence, Wharton was the mother of American interior design. A visit to the place where she wrote The House of Mirth is a like a tour through her soul. Unlike other Gilded Age mansions, The Mount is almost simplistic—all windows, mirrors, and natural light, set on a hill amid three acres of charming formal gardens.
Tours start in the grotto-like Forecourt and climb through enclaves sumptuous yet restrained (note the small, round dining-room table, a conspicuous break from the traditional long tables that Wharton felt stifled interesting conversation). In addition to tours, programming is offered through October. And after the tour, mosey through the town of Lenox, stuffed with antique shops, boutiques, and cafes.
At Naumkeag (thetrustees.org), built in Stockbridge by attorney Joseph Choate, it’s the gardens that truly impress. Set into a steeply sloping lawn with stunning views of the surrounding geography, each garden area has its own personality, from the Blue Steps, a series of cornflower fountains set into a staircase, to the tranquil Chinese Garden. Open through mid-October.
Be sure to be one of the 200,000-plus annual visitors to the Norman Rockwell Museum (nrm.org), also in Stockbridge, which houses a 367-work collection (including his famous Saturday Evening Post covers) that’s pure Americana.
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Dine: The Tavern and Main Dining Room at The Red Lion are hard to beat, but, for fantastic French-inspired cuisine, check out Chez Nous Bistro in nearby Lee (cheznousbistro.com).
Explore: If you have the luxury of a longer stay, stop in at the Morgan family’s Ventfort Hall (gildedage.org), also in Lenox, for a fascinating study in the sheer force of will it takes to restore and reopen a historic house. Saved from demolition by a determined group of locals, the house is only partially restored, and each room offers a glimpse into the life of its fashionable family, even as you gaze upon the bones of the structure itself.
Insider Tip: When entering the Chinese Garden at Naumkeag, do not use the Moon Gate. Instead, find the rectangular entrance, which makes a sharp right into the garden. The reason: According to Naumkeag staff, evil spirits can’t make 90-degree turns, so upon entrance you’ll really be leaving your troubles behind you!
Maple Glen atThe Red Lion Inn
30 Main St, Stockbridge, MA
Distance from White Plains: 2 hours
Details: Rates start at $270 through late October, and $160 thereafter. The Rockwell Retreat package offers two passes to the Norman Rockwell Museum, lunch for two at the museum’s café, and overnight accommodations in a deluxe guestroom; from $320 per room, including all taxes and meal gratuity. The Rise & Shine package features an overnight stay in a deluxe room and a country breakfast; from $315 per room including all taxes and meal gratuity.
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