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Ever since the 19th century, when well-to-do city dwellers built summer homes here, Massachusetts’s far-western Berkshire County has beckoned to visitors with its natural beauty and the cooler breezes of its mountain ridges and valleys. Dubbed the Berkshires, this region is today equally well known for its cultural offerings, which range from award-winning art museums to nationally renowned music, dance, and theater festivals. Plus, its strong agricultural pedigree guarantees farm-fresh produce just about anywhere you look, including on the menus of a new crop of restaurants rising in the area.
You could easily spend a week or more exploring this fabled Massachusetts region and its plethora of nature-made and manmade attractions. But if you have just a day or two, here are the five best things to do in the Berkshires region of Massachusetts.
How did the largest contemporary-art museum in North America wind up in North Adams? The short story is, it ingeniously solved two problems: what to do with the vast decaying buildings of a shuttered 16-acre manufacturing complex, and where to exhibit large-scale contemporary art. Ever since opening in 1999, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art has been a must-see on any Berkshires bucket list. Gigantic gallery spaces let artists unleash their creativity through fascinating installations, highlighted by more than 100 large-scale wall drawings designed by Connecticut native Sol LeWitt.
But museum lovers shouldn’t stop there: Just next door to North Adams is the college hamlet of Williamstown, which boasts both the highly regarded Williams College Museum of Art and the stunning Clark Art Institute. Meanwhile, in southern Berkshire County there’s Stockbridge, home to the museum and studio of beloved illustrator Norman Rockwell as well as the 1896 estate and studio of sculptor Daniel Chester French.
Built in 1826, the Round Stone Barn at Pittsfield’s Hancock Shaker Village is the perfect introduction to the Shaker genius for creative farming: The radial stalls are an elegant display of labor-saving animal husbandry. The iconic barn is the centerpiece of the restored village, one of the largest and most successful of the Shaker communities that once stretched from Kentucky to Maine. Called “the City of Peace” by the Shakers who once dwelled here, the Hancock settlement today is home to 20 original buildings, a working farm, a scenic walking trail, and a significant cache of Shaker furniture and artifacts.
Catch a Live Performance
In the warmer months, culture vultures can take their pick of first-class performing arts in the Berkshires. In Lenox, there’s Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which invites music lovers to spread a blanket on the lawn and enjoy a picnic serenade. In Becket, look for Jacob’s Pillow: a 220-acre National Historic Landmark, a recipient of the prestigious National Medal of Arts, and home to America’s longest-running international dance festival. And in Williamstown, there’s the Williamstown Theatre Festival, a tradition since 1955 that puts the spotlight on both classic plays and bold new works. Plus, check out the schedules for the Berkshire Theatre Group and Shakespeare & Co.
The highest point in Massachusetts, Mount Greylock in Adams has been a favorite of outdoor enthusiasts since the early 19th century, capturing the imagination of Hawthorne, Thoreau, and Melville (who even dedicated his novel Pierre to Greylock’s “Most Excellent Purple Majesty”). Today it’s the centerpiece of some 12,500 acres of state reservation land and an unbeatable challenge for adventurous hikers. The easiest hike to the top, a loop primarily set on the Cheshire Harbor Trail, still requires about four to five hours of moderate to strenuous effort. The payoff: looking out at a landscape that encompasses five states, several mountain ranges, and an ocean of greenery.
Yankee senior food editor Amy Traverso recently named the Berkshires town of Great Barrington as one of the 10 Best Foodie Getaways in New England, saying it “balances its identity as a weekend destination for city folk with an eat-local, farm-forward community of dedicated, food-savvy year-rounders.” Taste the results by heading to Railroad Street and Main Street, home to such tempting eateries such as Bizen, The Prairie Whale, GB Eats, Twoflower Cafe, Marjoram + Roux, SoCo Creamery, and more. And, Amy adds: “Don’t miss a stop at Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, the kind of green/gourmet/everyday supermarket that every town deserves, but few have.”
Have your own list of the very best things to do in the Berkshires? Leave your picks in the comments below!