The beauty of the mountains, farms and art - The Berkshires, MA
Updated: Jul 17, 2020
USA is a continental country, this is not a cliché, it is a fact. And the cliché that each place is it’s own is also a fact. Living in the USA for a decade, I always wanted to visit the Berkshires, far from street malls and skyscrapers, a typical New England region, a kind of local Guaramiranga (Ceará) or Campos do Jordão (São Paulo), or Montreux (Switzerland) - quaint towns that hold festivals to welcome art lovers. This year, as we live close by, and despite the pandemic, we decided to fulfil this wish. We loved it. Hence, I decided to share with you a little of what we saw in this beautiful and joyous place, despite the difficult times.
So here is a little bit of the Berskshires for you, online, in all its exuberance. After all, it is always good to keep dreaming, and we can go on planning for the future (remote and sparsely populated places will be a good option for years to come).
There are many places worth visiting in the region, Amherst, with one of the most prestigious public universities in the country, Williamstown, with its annual theatre festival; but today I’ll focus on Lenox, home to the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer season, and its surroundings.
For a walk, real or virtual, that fills your eyes, rejoices your heart and overflows tranquility, here are some unmissable places.
The Berkshire botanical garden offers beautiful gardens, which make up a magnificent sample of the region's beauty. Like many similar institutions, the garden offers a large number of classroom and online courses. For this unusual season, a conversation with Jennifer Well, about Women transforming horticulture across the planet, and a course on color theory and its application in landscaping, are also scheduled. If you live nearby, the garden is open despite the pandemic, but check the schedule - it is shortened, and health safety measures are required.
The Berkshires region is still predominantly rural, with agriculture and tourism as its main economic activities. For those who like country life, even if only temporarily, it is worth visiting the farms and dairies. At the site, small producers use organic agriculture and constantly promote Producer Markets. Depending on the season you are visiting, do not miss the strawberries, taste the local cheeses, and remember that the region produces Maple Syrup. As the pandemic continues, you can find out about some of this work on this page of local producers.
Horses and other animals
For those with children, an excellent tip is to take a horse ride on one of the many farms in the region (there are even tours to see local animals), or visit working farms where children can feed the animals and play with some of them . We visited Ioka Valley Farm to feed the animals - according to our daughters (5 and 6 years old), it was the best day of their lives!!
A walk through the Berkshires, live or virtual, will never be complete without a visit to Hancock Shaker Village. A working farm, with old buildings, Hancock Village is a monument to the Shakers and their way of life. This small Christian religion, founded in the 19th century by a woman, and now almost extinct, produced a very peculiar way of life. This way of life includes music and dance (click here for a sample) and furniture miniatures that are a true work of art.
The local shops have beautiful pieces. In the center of Lenox there are a number of galleries and small shops that sell a little of everything. Since almost everything is art, prices are high. But, even if it doesn't fit in your pocket, it is worth visiting the stores to see the pieces - some of the places are truly an art museum.
A very cool custom is the "honor stands". In this case, for the sale of flowers, fruits and vegetables. The producers simply display the material in a stand in front of their houses, each product with its price; the customers choose what they want, put the money in the box, and take their purchase.
Food from the region
If your mouth is watering from reading about the Producers’ Markets and local products, try this recipe here, for a taste of the Berkshires (organic, fast and sophisticated at the same time). If you are interested in the cuisine of the region, this book is a must: The Berkshires Farm to Table Cookbook.
The obvious absence in this text is the Tanglewood Festival. As if all that we mentioned here was not enough, the Berkshires are also the "summer residence" of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. As this year the events were cancelled (snif, snif), the concerts will be a reason for a new post, that should also include the theatre performances of the Shakespeare & Company (also suspended due to the pandemic).
To learn more about Shakers:
Simple Gifts: The Chamber Music Society at Shaker Village
Kindred Aesthetics Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village, by Ellsworth Kelly & Jack Shear
The Shaker Experience in America, by Stephen J. Stein
More about women and agriculture:
The Earth in her hands by Jennifer Well
More on The Berkshires's on the Summer: