Hampton Terrace—Southern Hospitality In a Quaint New England Town
Hampton Terrace turned out to be ideal for us. This bed and breakfast in Lenox, Massachusetts, is in the heart of the Berkshires. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to stay in the home of a wealthy friend during The Gilded Age, this is the place. Not surprisingly, Edith Wharton’s house is only a few blocks away. Herman Melville and Henry James also had homes in the area. (Hampton Terrace has a special offer for Woman Around Town readers. Click on the Hot Deal tag at the end of this story).
I immediately appreciated the way Hampton Terrace has been kept up; the James River blue-gray parlor is just the right color, and the decorative molding and personal touches are perfect. Big overstuffed chairs and couches are almost too comfortable to leave; a huge, roaring fireplace completes the picture. Fortunately, the period charm comes with totally modern plumbing.
There’s no doubt that the main asset of the inn is owner Stan Rosen. Far from the stereotype of a gregarious, backslapping proprietor, Stan is a quiet, thoughtful man, with great suggestions about what to do in the area, and a real concern for the happiness of his guests. “If there’s a problem, I want to know about it right away. I will fix whatever’s wrong, and even fill your ice trays if you like. People who are familiar with B&Bs know that these old houses aren’t perfect. You may see some paint that’s a bit chipped. This house is always going to be a work in progress.”
Lots of celebrities have sat around the ample dining room table. Ken Jennings, Lauren Ambrose, Olympia Dukakis, Ray Abruzzo; all are treated to this native Georgian’s own special brand of southern hospitality. “We treat everyone just the same. We do recognize famous people, of course. But they’re here to rest and unwind just like everyone else. I’m available to every guest at any hour of the day, and my door is never locked.”
In fact, a week at Christmas is the only time that Hampton Terrace is closed. The owner is keyed into the Tanglewood calendar, which means that any time but July, August, and October are considered off-season. So the gorgeous months of May, June, and September are a bargain here? Absolutely; in addition to reduced rates, if guests stay two or more nights, they receive a $30 gift certificate to a local liquor store.
“There’s a reason over two million people come to this region each year. The Berkshires were ranked the number seven vacation destination in the world by National Geographic Traveler. Vacationers have been coming here for centuries. Creative people are drawn here; James Taylor is a full time resident. We want people to realize that this is a great place to visit during the winter months. There are no crowds, lower prices.” Stan is passionate about the area, and very knowledgeable, too.
We take his suggestions on what’s best to see and do, and eat dinner at a little restaurant named Nudel. I’m surprised and delighted that the food is New York quality. Simple dishes made from local products are delicious and served promptly. There are stools at a counter facing the kitchen, for those who enjoy watching the chef work.
The next morning, we pepper Stan with questions; the answers are enlightening. Hampton Terrace was named after the son of a previous owner. It’s been an inn since 1937; the Rosens took over in 1997, and completely renovated. Everyone is welcome; many come from New York and Boston, to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life for a little while. The obviously cherished Steinway in the parlor was a gift from Stan’s great-grandfather to his new daughter-in-law. The gentle sound of hourly chimes comes from a church across the street. The outdoor pool is a favorite guest hangout in the summer.
There are fourteen rooms in all. John and I think ours is the best. We crave privacy as well as charm; our King Suite is in the new section behind the main house. The enormous bed is extremely comfortable. We enjoy the little gas fireplace in the corner, and take advantage of the small fridge. My spouse luxuriates in the Jacuzzi.
We take every opportunity to experience Stan’s amazing breakfasts, for which he is justifiably famous. The menu changes, but the French toast (regular, cinnamon, and chocolate) and the Southern breakfast (including grits) are both to die for. The table settings are elegant, the dining room chandelier is eye catching and quirky, and the side table heaped with yogurt and cold cereal beckons even the most finicky eater. I loved the little touch of marmalade and jams served with spoons sticking out of jars, the better to heap on the “make it your way” toast.
We probably ate more and lingered longer than we should have, but we finally made it to Stockbridge. I was dying to see the Norman Rockwell Museum, and I wasn’t disappointed. The building itself is modern and minimalist, and the artwork is displayed to perfection. Rockwell always claimed that he was not an artist, just an illustrator; but I came away with a greater appreciation of his work. John and I sat mesmerized on a bench in front of “Main Street at Christmas.” There’s no way you can appreciate the 3-D effect unless you actually see it live. I couldn’t help but think that in the summer months, we probably wouldn’t be able to have this up close and personal experience. Our tour guide was superb; she sprinkled her talk with insights about the models who were used, and spoke with us privately for quite a while. An added bonus was an exhibition all about Jerry Pinkney, one of the top illustrators of today.
In spite of the cold, we walked around Stockbridge, pinpointing many of the locations used by Rockwell. Everyone in town was extremely helpful; when it came time to eat dinner, a resident pointed us to a little café with good food and great hot cider. I was sorry we didn’t have time to check out all the interesting little shops, but we did find the former site of Alice’s Restaurant.
When you go to the Berkshires, the pride and the enthusiasm of the people you meet will encourage you to return and find out more about this unique region. If you get the opportunity, don’t fail to notice the distinctive Victorian and Georgian architecture. Do ask Stan Rosen to tell you, in his quiet Southern style, stories about his adventures in the music business. Be open to joining in the spirit of this slower paced, culture rich area.
As we reluctantly left Lenox, a gentle snow was just beginning to fall, frosting the majestic old trees. Their elegant branches sparkled silver in the sunlight.
Photo credit for breakfast table: John Warner
Other photos, Jumping Rocks Photography, Philadelphia. To see more of the studio’s work, go to its website.
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively about travel, food, and art, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary.
Berkshires a top destination
By Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Updated: 11/14/2009 07:53:14 AM EST
Saturday, Nov. 14
Think of all the destinations treasured by the globe-trotting elite.
Tuscany. The French Riviera. The Great Barrier Reef.
The Berkshires beat them all.
In this month's edition of National Geographic Traveler magazine, the region tied for 7th out of 133 vacation destinations ranked by a panel of 437 experts in fields such as historic preservation, sustainable tourism, travel writing, food, photography and archaeology.
In the article, one unnamed expert writes that the area "seems to have the right balance of picturesque towns, arts offerings, and well-protected natural beauty."
Lauri Klefos, president of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, said businesses and cultural venues have been ecstatic about the recognition, which she views as the best free advertising possible.
"This is one of the premiere travel magazines in the world," Klefos said. "People pick up this magazine when they're looking to find a destination that they never considered before."
Michael Supranowicz, president of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, predicted that the acknowledgment will be used as a "selling point" for the local tourism industry.
"This is a feather in our cap, and we deserve it," he said. "We have a beautiful place here, and a lot of people know it. But what was interesting about this survey is that it wasn't based in stats and numbers. Their experts had personal knowledge of the places.
had their feet on the ground."
While representatives from the magazine did not return phone calls Friday, the article's author, Jonathan B. Tourtellot, explained that editors came up with a unique way of ranking the destinations.
They asked the experts to submit anonymous points of view on each place. They reviewed each others' remarks and then filled in their final scores based on six criteria, which ranged from environmental quality to cultural integrity, condition of historic buildings and quality of tourism management.
It's a variation of a research tool called the Delphi method that helps groups reach a consensus.
Points were docked for reckless development and commercialization.
The Berkshires earned a score of 76.
Norway's Fjords topped the list with an 85. Vermont scored a 78, Germany's Bavarian Alps a 77, and Tuscany a 72.
Cape Cod? 58.
Tourtellot wrote that the annual survey, the magazine's sixth, "isn't a popularity contest. It is an assessment of authenticity and stewardship, evaluating the qualities that make a destination unique and measuring its integrity of place."
"When people care about the condition of a place, its score tends to go up ... The condition of any destination is a mix of what local governments, residents, and businesses can control -- pollution, cultural quality, authenticity."
One expert wrote that the area was "still undiscovered enough, and with a tradition of slow-growth tourism to add cultural pizzazz to the lush scenery."
Another said that "some complain it is becoming too ‘gentrified,' with boutiques pushing out the mom-and-pop establishments."
One commented that "a balance must be maintained to preserve the area."
Klefos said she valued one of the expert's compliments above all the others.
"Authenticity," she said. "That's one of the characteristics that we care about most. We're not fake. We're not manmade. This is a unique area with a wide variety of venues across the county. Everyone who lives here should feel proud."
To reach Benning W. De La Mater: email@example.com, (413) 496-6243.
B&Bs welcome recession-weary travelers
Even in an uncertain economy, vacationers still spring for a quick getaway in picturesque towns like Lenox, Mass.
B&Bs welcome recession-weary travelers
By Laura Bly,
LENOX, Mass. -- When the Great Depression forced wealthy summer residents of this bucolic New England enclave to abandon their opulent, late-19th-century "cottages," the homes' transformations to bed-and-breakfast inns gave city-weary, romance-minded travelers a vicarious glimpse of the Gilded Age.
Now, even as the Great Recession prompts mainstream hotels to slash rates in a scramble to fill rooms, most of Lenox's two dozen B&Bs look to October's explosion of color in the surrounding Berkshire Mountains -- and a corresponding influx of leaf peepers -- with guarded optimism.
"There was a lot of panic earlier this year, but I can't remember a single weekend this summer that all inns didn't sell out," says Stan Rosen, head of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau lodging committee and owner of Hampton Terrace Bed and Breakfast in Lenox. Bookings at his 14-room, 110-year-old inn are up by nearly a third this year, with an average nightly rate of $200.
Lenox's B&Bs aren't the only ones bucking an ebbing lodging tide.
According to a recent study by the New Jersey-based Professional Association of Innkeepers International (PAII), bed-and-breakfast occupancy rates held steady last year, while their average daily room rate of $150 was up 3.4% from 2007. In a new survey of 3,500 B&B travelers by the website BedandBreakfast.com, just under 55% of respondents said the recession was having an impact on their travel plans this fall, down from 65% last winter and spring. Another 84% said they would take the same or more trips as last year.
"While some properties are of course hurting, generally we just haven't seen the sharp drop-off in our industry that hotels have been experiencing," PAII's Jay Karen says. "Our bread-and-butter is the drive-in, long-weekend vacation market, and that fits well during a recession."
Tradition with tech-savvy updates
Though definitions remain squishy -- B&Bs can mean anything from urban home stays to 30-room country inns that serve dinner as well as breakfast -- most of the estimated 20,000 U.S.-based bed-and-breakfasts are owner-occupied, with between four and 11 rooms.
Thanks to what Karen calls the "Darwinian effect" of user-generated reviews on TripAdvisor and other websites, part-time hobbyists are giving way to Internet-savvy innkeepers armed with Twitter feeds, Facebook fan pages and real-time availability calendars. (IloveInns.com's free iPhone app even lets you search for B&Bs by GPS location.)
<span>Conviviality remains a hallmark of the bed-and-breakfast experience, but morning repasts served at flexible meal times -- and at tables set for two -- are wooing those who blanch at the prospect of pre-caffeine conversations with strangers. Starched doilies and shared baths have been supplanted by Jacuzzis and high-end toiletries. A majority of B&Bs now offer free Wi-Fi and in-room TVs as well as more traditional afternoon tea or wine, robes and fireplaces, Karen says.
And while ruffles still reign supreme at many inns (including those in Lenox), "you're starting to see more inns trend towards a Pottery Barn look rather than a Laura Ashley one," he says. "Traveler tastes are changing, and so will what they find at B&Bs."
Bed-and-breakfast owners "have done a good job of convincing people that they're not Bob Newhart (who played a folksy, cardigan-wearing New England innkeeper in the TV series Newhart) or Mom and Dad renting a spare room when Junior goes off to college, " says Mary White, founder of BnBFinder.com and author of Running a Bed & Breakfast for Dummies.
"Their target audience is an upscale traveler looking for an experience, not just a room," adds BedandBreakfast.com's Sandy Soule.
That said, more bed-and-breakfast innkeepers are fielding "what can you do for me?" calls from insistent deal hunters -- including those in the former robber baron stomping grounds of Lenox, home to the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer Tanglewood music festival and a lineup of sophisticated restaurants.
Value-added packages entice
In recent years, many travelers have booked directly online, says innkeeper Bosa Kosovic of Lenox's 14-room Kemble Inn, an 1881 "cottage" built by President Chester Arthur's secretary of State and set on 3 acres overlooking the Berkshire Mountains. "Now," she says, "everybody's calling and negotiating."
While you won't see Priceline-like rate cuts at B&Bs in Lenox or elsewhere, many are lowering midweek prices, easing two-to-three night minimum stays on last-minute weekend bookings and promoting more value-added packages, from a "fun-for-foodies vacation" at Lenox's Birchwood Inn and five other New England properties to a "taste of fall" deal at Lenox's Garden Gables Inn. Included in the latter: free hiking, cider doughnuts, wine tastings and bag of ripe apples at the owner's nearby orchards and winery.
And for B&B fans like Sandra Aplin of Jupiter, Fla., the chance to soak up the ambience of a bygone era among like-minded travelers is priceless.
"A lot of people tell me they wouldn't stay at a B&B because they're not sure what to expect and they're afraid of being disappointed," says Aplin, tucking into chocolate-chip French toast at the Hampton Terrace while resisting the entreaties of the inn's resident pooch and "real owner," Atticus.
"But in places like this, you can feel at home away from home."
A Month of Weekends: 4 Easy Escapes
1 Berkshires Cultural Blitz
By Catherine Censor
The WAG - September 2009
It's no secret that I love the Berkshires (see last year's article chronicling my previous visit). They're close, the scenery is spectacular, and the cultural offerings can't be beat. But if you've already done the Tanglewood/Jacob's Pillow/Lenox/Stockbridge tour, or you're just looking for a few new favorite destinations, I've got you covered.
If you've got your mouth fixed for bucolic New England charm, you might buzz through the small city of Pittsfield without a second thought. During my early summer visit, all the sidewalks were torn up as part of a massive beautification project -- which didn't exactly enhance its appeal. Still, if you miss Pittsfield, you'll miss some of the area's best art, dining, and theater.
The Barrington Stage Company (30 Union St., 413-236-8888, www.barringtonstage.org) produces first-rate theater. In 2004, this group developed and premiered The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which went to Broadway and won two Tony Awards. Tickets are remarkably affordable with some going for as little as $15! Just a few blocks away, you'll find the Colonial Theatre (111 South S., 413-997-4444, www.thecolonialtheatre.org), a painstakingly restored vaudeville house that gets acts ranging from Mandy Patinkin to touring productions of The Producers.
If you're more of a visual arts fan, visit the Ferrin Gallery (437 North St., 413-442-1622), one of the nation's premier ceramic art and sculpture galleries. And if you've got kids in tow, put the Berkshire Museum (39 South St., 413-443-7171) at the top of your list. This small gem has the spirit of 19th century eclecticism. You'll find an Egyptian mummy, dioramas of global fauna, fine art and sculpture, minerals, and modern, interactive exhibits such as a touch tank, hands-on archeological "dig," and playful technological "toys." Speaking of toys, children of all ages will love the wooden mechanical toys designed by artist Alexander Calder. The originals are on display but you and your kids can play with functional replicas.
Hungry? Pittsfield has everything from Indian, Mexican, and Asian Fusion to a French bistro, a tapas bar, and our choice for Saturday dinner, Trattoria Rustica (26 McKay St., 413-499-1192), which specializes in southern regional Italian cuisine. The setting is warm and cozy, with brick-lined walls, and the food is authentic and homemade. The whole, grilled fish of the day garners raves.
My home for the weekend was admittedly a repeat: Lenox. Centrally located and home to some of my favorite restaurants (Alta Restaurant and Wine Bar at 34 Church St. for contemporary, French-accented cuisine, and Gateways Inn at 51 Walker St. for owner Fabrizzio's memorable hospitality and wine list and his wife, Rosemary's equally memorable homemade cuisine), Lenox is big on both bucolic charm and Gilded Age romance. This time, I stayed at Hampton Terrace Bed and Breakfast Inn (91 Walker St., 413-637-1773, www.hamptonterrace.com), one of the first grand "Berkshire cottages" to host guests.
My room featured a functional fireplace, a wonderful bed so high off the ground that I was thankful for the step stool next to it, gobs of cottage-y charm, and an enormous bathroom with original, built-in storage and fixtures that politely could be called "familiar" (aqua-blue toilet with matching sink and shower). For those who really care about their plumbing fixtures, the modern rooms in the annex feature Jacuzzis. An in-ground, heated pool was an unexpected bonus, as was the hot entree with the complimentary breakfast.
Owner Stan Rosen says that about 50 percent of his business is repeat clientele, visitors who return year after year for Lenox's many cultural offerings. Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Pops, and Shakespeare & Co. (70 Kemble St., 413-637-3353, www.shakespeare.org), a Berkshires treasure that performs new plays in addition to top-notch interpretations of the Shakespearean classics. We saw a performance of Romeo and Juliet that was one of the highlights of our stay.
Speaking of "high," you can either hike or drive to the summit of Mount Greylock in Lanesborough. At 3,491 feet, this is the highest point in Massachusetts, and from the WPA-era Veterans War Memorial Tower, you can enjoy spectacular views encompassing five states. We stopped there for some photos and fresh air en route to yet more culture in a quaint setting. The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (225 South St., 413-458-2303, www.clarkart.edu) in pretty Williamstown boasts all the big names in French Impressionism (Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, et al), English silver, decorative arts, and special exhibits. When we visited we saw an exhibit of work by Georgia O'Keefe and her contemporary, Arthur Dove.
On our drive home, we stopped in Great Barrington to browse in the shops, galleries, and real estate agency (we were tempted), but we settled for a more affordable temptation: homemade Mexicali Chocolate ice cream spiced with cayenne and mint from SoCo Creamery (5 Railroad St., 413-528-9420). We'll definitely be back for more.
133 Places Rated: North America
133 Places Rated: North America
Text by Jay Walljasper
This area in western Massachusetts "seems to have the right balance "of picturesque towns, arts offerings, and well-protected natural beauty. Some complain it is becoming too "gentrified," with "boutiques pushing out the mom-and-pop establishments."
Here is a representative sampling of additional anonymous comments from the panelists. They are not necessarily the views of the National Geographic Society:
"Important area for cultural tourism in a beautiful environmental setting, the Berkshires have long attracted upscale visitors. From the Gilded Age summer 'cottages' to quaint and aesthetically appealing small towns, historical and cultural museums, and summer musical performances, the Berkshires have continuing appeal for the economically well-situated and for many average middle-class families. Outdoor recreation activities, such as hiking in natural surroundings, add to the appeal."
"Still undiscovered enough, and with a tradition of slow-growth tourism to add cultural pizzazz to the lush scenery, the Berkshires seem to have the right balance. The landscape will need to come together around these values to maintain them for the long haul."
"A cultural hideaway. Still favored more by New Yorkers than Bostonians, but never feels overrun even in the height of summer and during the peak of foliage."
"Gentrification is one of the biggest threats. The area is stunning, but the demand for boutiques and Norman Rockwell experiences pushes out the mom-and-pop establishments. A balance must be maintained to preserve the area."
Massachusetts: Cape Cod
"Some parts are beautiful and well-managed," but more bike trails, conservation areas, and public transit are sorely needed to overcome the Cape's "car-intensive nature." Some towns are losing their character, and environmental quality has declined, but the area instills a loyalty in visitors, offering hopes for improvement.
Here is a representative sampling of additional anonymous comments from the panelists. They are not necessarily the views of the National Geographic Society:
"Some parts are beautiful and well managed, but the car-intensive nature of the Cape diminishes the quality in many areas. More bike trails and public transit would help."
"The National Park Service seems to be doing a very good job balancing tourism with preservation of the dunes on the eastern end of Cape Cod."
"The 'authentic' Cape Cod cultural experience is being slowly worn away by the ubiquitous homogenization of the retail experience. Shoreline ecology remains intact and healthy."
"Best enjoyed spring and fall before summer crowds, which can be overwhelming, arrive—especially when trying to cross either of the two bridges. Popularity has led to too many gift shops and too much of the miniature-golf, go-cart sort of entertainment."