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The Boston Pops at Tanglewood will play with Josh Groban this summer.( Photo: Hilary Scott)
By Barbara Hoffman
There are lots of reasons to head for the Berkshire Hills each summer, and the Williamstown Theater Festival, a.k.a WTF — launching pad for Broadway’s upcoming “The Elephant Man” with Bradley Cooper — is just one of them.
Western Massachusetts’ mountains, streams and steeples have long beckoned artists and writers. Your first stop? Great Barrington, a town with a crunchy, granola vibe — a fine place to unwind after threading your way up the Taconic. Main Street’s shops are chockablock with kaleidoscopes and wind chimes, and Barrington Outfitters (289 Main St.) carries more Birkenstocks than you believed possible.
Stop and smell the hummus at Baba Louie’s (286 Main St.), a mecca for vegans and fans of artisanal pizza. If you can’t bear the wait, turn the corner to 20 Railroad Street and belly up to the bar for some kick-ass sliders and salads. Or hit the Meat Market (389 Stockbridge Road), a nose-to-tail butcher shop that makes mincemeat out of my vows to go vegetarian.
Where the Williamstown Theatre Festival is happening. (Photo: Rob Ross)
It’s the perfect place to pick up a picnic to take to Tanglewood, the 250-acre summer retreat, just north of Stockbridge, of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Whether you’re seated in the (covered) shed or lying on the lawn, there’s no lovelier place to hear one of America’s top ensembles — or, for that matter, James Taylor (July 3 and 4) and the Boston Pops with Josh Groban (Aug. 30).
Stockbridge itself is picture-postcard-perfect, right down to the rocking chairs dotting the porch of the Red Lion Inn.
It looks much as it did 50 years ago, when Norman Rockwell bicycled through it, looking for subjects for his Saturday Evening Post covers. His art, studio and even his bicycle are enshrined in the Norman Rockwell Museum on Route 183. Those who’ve read Deborah Solomon’s controversial bio may well want to see his “homoerotic” works for themselves.
Heading north through Lenox, check out Edith Wharton’s digs, The Mount. Not only did “The Age of Innocence” writer work here, she also designed the house and gardens herself.
There’s plenty of picnic space at Tanglewood. Photo: (Hilary Scott)
Further north, past Pittsfield — a battered but noble city overdue for resurgence — is Williamstown, home to Williams College, Stephen Sondheim’s alma mater, and the theater fest that bears its name, WTF.
Playing out against several stages are cabaret and full-scale productions, some of which, like “The Bridges of Madison County” and the new “Elephant Man” revival, were warm-ups for Broadway. This summer’s slate includes Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love” with Sam Rockwell and Nina Arianda (July 24-Aug. 3) and “Living on Love” (July 16-26) with Renee Fleming and Anna Chlumsky.
Williamstown is also home to the Clark Art Institute, whose terrific collection includes Renoir, Homer and Bouguereau’s sexy “Nymphs with Satyr.” The Clark just had a major renovation and reopens July 4.
Cubic drawings of Sol LeWitt adorn the walls of MASS MoCa. (Photo: Zoran Orlic)
The renovated museum will include Cafe Seven — a contemporary, market-driven restaurant from uber-restaurateur Stephen Starr.
Beyond the Clark, there are plenty of places to eat in this preppy little burg, from tavern fare to Thai, but the cheapest and best is Espana Tapas, just north of town, on Route 2. Even with the homemade sangria and paella, you can dine like a don for about $70 a couple.
A mile or so north, turn right onto Marion Avenue for a gem of a hike, the Cascades Trail. Park your car near the gate at the dead-end street and spend an hour or so traversing the rocky trail to and from a 40-foot waterfall.
From there, it’s just a skip away from MASS MoCa. A haven for contemporary art and performance, it’s built a fervent following since opening in 1999 in a former electric factory. Trees grow upside down (in canisters) in its courtyard, and the huge, loft-like interior invite sprawling exhibits, like Robert Wilson’s monumental “14 Stations” exhibit.
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Unlike the ivy-tower climes of Williamstown, North Adams has a gritty, mill-town feel, with eateries to match — like Jack’s Hot Dog Stand, a legend since 1917. And the prices haven’t gone up much: A chili-cheese dog is $2.05, pepper steak’s $2.10, onion rings $1.75. The Berkshires — what a bargain!
Where to stay: The Orchards, a castle-like retreat on the northern edge of Williamstown, offers gardens, pool, free afternoon tea and other niceties in spacious rooms with early New England accents (from $199).
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