The Wheatleigh Hotel, Lenox, Massachusetts, September 2012.
On a humid afternoon in early September, we found ourselves meandering along a forest-lined road in Lenox, Massachusetts, in the heart of the leafy Southern Berkshires. Eyes peeled for the first signs of Autumnal colour in the foliage (alas only a few leaves had taken on a glorious golden hue), our destination was the Wheatleigh hotel, a member of The Leading Hotels of The World group. Built in 1893 during the Gilded Age by a wealthy New York financier as a wedding present for his daughter, Wheatleigh is described as a “Florentine palazzo atop a Berkshire knoll overlooking mountains and lake…”. My initial thoughts on the idea of an Italian palazzo-style building in the New England countryside were one of quiet skepticism: would it look starkly out of place? A poor imitation of “the real thing” in Europe? As we pulled into the sweeping circular driveway punctuated by an imposing fountain, all thoughts of an eccentric monstrosity were cast aside. A grand Italianate mansion awaited us.
Greeted with the offer of a glass of champagne in the parquetry-floored Great Hall (which is dominated by a wonderfully ornate fireplace, Tiffany stained glass windows and a soaring ceiling), we were promptly shown to our Junior Suite on the upper floor of the palazzo by one of the friendly staff. Decorated in refined, understated tones of chocolate, toffee and cream (I know, I know, food is never far from my thoughts!), the two things that caught my eye apart from the oversized king bed, were the fireplace (filled with candles on our visit as it was too early in September for a crackling fire) and the bank of windows framing the majestic view of the woods and rolling hills which surround the Wheatleigh estate. Stepping onto our private balcony, complete with elegant arches and columns, we were only persuaded to leave the beautiful view by a soft knock at the door. A question: Would we prefer Bvlgari, Thierry Mugler, Clarins or aromatherapy toiletries, and still or sparkling VOSS water? I ummed and ahhed so much over the prettily wrapped cellophane packages of toiletries (presented on a silver tray) that, encouraged by the service attendant, we ended up with both the Bvlgari and the Mugler! A plate of still-warm chocolate cookies was discretely delivered along with our bottles of water – it is the small, thoughtful things like this which distinguish and set apart a luxury, boutique hotel.
A stroll around the 22 acre estate revealed the full extent of the wonderful craftsmanship of the some 150 artisans who came from Italy to build the palazzo: Intricate carvings, grand columns, Renaissance balustrading, elegantly curved windows and imposing porticos all set on an expanse of immaculately terraced lawn. The décor throughout the hotel was elegant, subtle and tasteful: glass bowls full of crisp green apples, light-caramel coloured velvet couches, discrete lighting, vases filled with fresh flowers, and candles which were lit as night fell. Drawn to the secluded pool area (complete with fire pits and padded lounges) we spent the late afternoon lazing in the heated pool watching squirrels dart from tree to tree and contemplating whether we would have a bottle of red or white wine over dinner (the red won out!). After a dash back to our suite, a soak in the freestanding Czech & Speake Edwardian bath helped warm me up while serving to wrinkle my fingers and toes just a little bit more.
Things to Do:
Wheatleigh is situated about 2.5 hours drive from either Boston or NYC. We flew from London into Boston where we spent the night (loved it!) and then one night in Cape Cod before driving to The Berkshires. I highly recommend a stop at White Electric Coffee for a refuelling latte stop if you are travelling through Providence, Rhode Island on your journey to The Berkshires.
Apart from tennis (there is a tennis court on site…unfortunately it was too rainy on our visit to use. Well, that is my excuse anyway!) and relaxing by the pool, there are a number of things to do in the area (a car is required):
Tanglewood, which is situated within walking/biking distance of Wheatleigh (the hotel provides bikes), is the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately we arrived a day after the summer season had ended so we missed out on a concert and picnic under the stars.
Apple peeping (joined by Autumnal leaf peeping later in September, early October) at any of the orchards in the local area. We visited Hilltop Orchards and spent a morning wandering about the orchard and admiring the different varieties of apples ready for picking. The reward at the end? A bag of delicious, warm, sugary apple cider donuts! So, so good! Even if you don’t like apples, you will love these cinnamony rings of goodness.
Norman Rockwell Museum. A visit to the museum and Rockwell’s Stockbridge studio is a must if you appreciate art as is the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
There are also hiking trails in The Berkshires as well as skiing in winter.
There is a restaurant and bar at Wheatleigh as well as room service but if you don’t feel like eating in, Lenox has quite a few restaurants and cafes. For breakfast/lunch, we tried Haven Café & Bakery which seemed very popular with the locals (the huevos rancheros was delicious).
If you are driving back to NYC, Stone Barns Center is well worth a detour. We were pushed for time so only had time for a coffee and fresh heirloom tomato salad (delicious). I could have spent the day photographing the farm!
Our stay at Wheatleigh was compliments of the hotel.