by Suzanne Volmer
To “Go West” in summer to the Berkshires by car is a lush and green journey with many cultural riches to explore on the pathway to your destination. In the morning, traveling 10 or 20 miles above the speed limit on the Mass Pike is the normal pace as you jockey with gigantic trucks that are beginning their cross-country hauls. There is excitement as the altitude climbs and the region’s seductive mountains voluptuously engulf the visitor. The natural beauty of the Berkshires is enticing, awesome and relaxing. Think rural — and in some instances — forest primeval.
The Appalachian Trail runs through Berkshire County, with markings noticeable along the 90.2-mile route. When you get on or off the trail, North Adams and Williamstown are perhaps the most concentrated culture zones. Campsites are available throughout the entire region and bed & breakfast accommodations are plentiful, as are Airbnbs or motel options.
The center of Stockbridge, of Norman Rockwell fame, is like a company town with much of it a real estate holding of The Red Lion Inn. If staying at the Inn, expect a low-key, full service atmosphere. The Red Lion Inn has a colonial history, and as a franchise, it has preserved Stockbridge’s character by purchasing surrounding private and commercial real estate as it has become available. The Inn has parlor sitting rooms, a formal dining room, a tavern and a courtyard for outdoor dining. Its Lion’s Den is subterranean and a place where musicians playing in the area sometimes go to unwind. Expect amenities like health club facilities and a masseuse by appointment. Guests can swim laps in the pool as early as 6 a.m., or perhaps decide to swim next to a few musicians and composers who have descended from their rooms for a dip in the late afternoon. If desired, cocktails are served by the pool.
Elm Street Market is a Red Lion Inn property but feels like an independent throwback to Norman Rockwell’s 1930s Stockbridge. Rockwell had his studio on a second floor, pretty much directly behind this market across the alleyway. The market is a comfortable spot for a good, quick breakfast. If sitting at a counter stool, why not watch the short-order cook prepare your meal on the flattop? Buy a newspaper there. Read the notices pinned on the wall regarding what’s new locally pertaining to visual art, theater and writing events. Perhaps, buy some groceries or order a deluxe picnic basket with wine for plein-air dining. In the morning, this and the coffee shop next door are the town’s gathering spots. Both are directly across from the post office and laundromat.